Gila County gets about 69 percent of its revenue from its northern communities, but does north county get its money’s worth?
The issue has aggravated some northern Gila County residents for years and emerged in several races for county positions, like supervisor, assessor and treasurer.
However, county officials this week rebutted the complaint that the county collects most of its money from the north and spends most of it in the south.
“The only real inequity between north and south is the fact the county fairgrounds are in the south,” District One Supervisor Tommie Martin said, noting that the county spends $250,000 a year on the fairgrounds in Globe.
“Last year (the fairgrounds) generated $18,254,” Deputy County Manager John Nelson said, since fees are usually waived for community-based events at the fairgrounds.
“I’d like to see us put that kind of money up here to maybe help get the Payson Event Center covered,” Martin said.
However, the county keeps no easily obtained list of where all its employees are based. The county has its headquarters in Globe, but also maintains facilities in Payson. Most court cases, central administrative offices, the jail and the headquarters for the sheriff’s office are all located in Globe. Payson police and sheriff’s deputies based here must often transport prisoners to Globe and sometimes shuttle to Globe for court hearings.
Martin acknowledged that the courthouse and holding cells in Payson often can’t handle the flow of prisoners or many court cases — but said that’s mostly because north county voters five years ago rejected a plan to expand the facilities here.
“The Superior Court (in Payson) has no space for jury selection or jury deliberations or the business of the court,” Martin said.
The jail, built in the 1960s, is too small to serve as even a holding facility, she said.
However, voters in 2007 rejected a bond issue that would have provided the money to expand the Payson facilities.
Even with the rejection of the court and jail proposal, Martin said she has continued to hear complaints about the lack of a juvenile detention facility in northern Gila County. She contends one is not needed up here. The existing facility in Globe is usually half shuttered, even though it has a capacity for only 24 offenders.
“Juveniles must be isolated from other (incarcerated) populations, provided with schooling, medical, dental and visual care in addition to room and board,” she said.
“It costs $135 per day per juvenile and the state determined where it would be, what size it would be and the state paid for it,” Nelson said.
Martin and Nelson estimated that approximately two-thirds of the county’s budget goes to the sheriff’s department, the courts and indigent health care.
“I truly don’t know how to break down the north/south budget allocations,” said Nelson, who has been working with Gila County’s budget since 1995.
“It would be an expensive process,” he said.
Martin said she would guess that between 50 and 75 percent of the population of inmates housed in the jail in Globe live in northern Gila County.
“So is the money we’re spending there going to northern Gila County, because that is where the jail population comes from, or is it going to southern Gila County because that is where the jail is?” Martin offered.
Almost every department within the county government has a presence in both northern and southern Gila County — although the bulk of the county’s employees work in Globe. Some officers don’t have any employees based in Payson at all, including the treasurer’s office, the public fiduciary and the county switchboard, Nelson said.
Most customer service provided by the treasurer’s office can be conducted in the recorder’s office, which is at the southwest corner of West Frontier and South Colcord. If people need more assistance, they can get help from recorder’s staff on behalf of the treasurer. Moreover, the treasurer will come to northern Gila County by appointment.
Very few residents have business with the public fiduciary’s office, which handles the court-assigned financial and health care issues for people the court has found incompetent to handle their own affairs, Nelson said.
As for the switchboard, an 800 number provides northern Gila County with toll-free access to many services at 1-800-304-4452.
The availability of county services to residents of Payson and the surrounding communities has grown by leaps and bounds since the mid-1980s, said Martin. Formerly, the county had just three sheriff’s deputies stationed in north county and someone to operate a blade on county roads, Martin said.
“Ninety percent of the population doesn’t get county services because they haven’t been arrested, they are not indigent or incompetent, they are not HIV positive and they don’t live on a dirt road,” Nelson said.
“Honestly, I don’t see a serious inequity of services up here, except that we need better court facilities and more money for recreation and quality of life,” Martin said.