Incumbent Gila County Treasurer Deborah Savage maintained an 1,100 vote lead over Republican challenger Don Ascoli on Thursday, with 3,400 provisional and early ballots still uncounted.
Ascoli’s polite but persistent effort to unseat the long-time, rarely challenged incumbent turned into a classic North-South battle on election day.
As of Thursday, Ascoli had 8,045 votes and Savage had 9,222. Ascoli won every precinct in the heavily Republican north, but Savage held onto all of south county and added a Tonto Basin precinct.
Ascoli, former chairman of the Gila County Republican Party and on the county planning commission, offered Savage a rare challenge at the polls, with a series of hard-nosed questions. He insisted that she should open a north county office, since the Northern half of the county accounts for about 70 percent of the assessed value.
He also questioned the rate of return the county gets on money and reserves invested in out-of-state financial institutions.
However, Savage ran a low key race, rarely appearing in North County and sidestepping many of Ascoli’s most pointed challenges.
The incumbent’s reluctance to journey north irked Ascoli. He said other rural counties have multiple offices. He cited Navajo County as an example. That county has two treasurer’s offices due to the county’s vast size. “Every other county office has a northern office,” said Ascoli.
Savage said she is happy to work with property owners on their taxes. If they cannot pay the full amount, she will make payment arrangements.
But Payson residents have to call her office, or drive to Globe to speak to representatives from her office.
Ascoli has years of business experience. During those years in his career, he had to manage finances — a background he promised to bring to the treasurer’s office.
He said that the county has about $67 million invested split between two funds: one with a Well Fargo branch in Phoenix, the other with Institutional Capital Management based in Colorado. He complained that the combined return on the two funds barely reaches one percent — half of it in another state.
“We’re paying for services out of the state,” he said of the management fee the Colorado investment company gathers. He said he would rather see Gila County place its investment funds with the Arizona Treasury.
He also noted that the county should be getting from 1.2 to 1.7 percent on its investments, instead of less than 1 percent.
Savage simply refused to respond to Ascoli’s questions when asked for comment from the Roundup. “I do not wish to comment on what Don Ascoli has found. I do not want to give him ammunition (for the campaign),” she said.
Her refusal to engage apparently worked, as Ascoli seemingly failed to overcome the incumbent’s advantage.
The tactic worked even though Ascoli put up campaign signs in both north and south and advertised on radio and newspapers. The two candidates appeared jointly in only one candidate forum.
In the end, some voters simply skipped over the treasurer’s race. The sheriff’s race, for instance, drew 400 more voters than the treasurer’s race, suggesting many voters had simply not picked up enough information to make a decision.