One candidate says she is working to keep the county safe from fire. The other candidate says she is working to keep county government accessible. These are two of a number of issues that mark the differences between the candidates for Gila County District 1, where incumbent Republican Supervisor Tommie Cline Martin faces an outspoken challenge from Independent developer Hallie Overman Jackman (I).
Recently in the Roundup, Martin stressed her efforts to protect Rim Country communities from devastating wildfires.
Meanwhile, Overman-Jackman says many Rim residents feel ignored and abandoned by county government, which remains dominated by supervisors from the Globe end of the county.
Martin has kept the focus on her efforts, combined with that of area fire districts and volunteers, to protect Rim Country from wildfires in spite of a modest decline in the county tax rate in the past several years.
Keeping the county safe from natural disasters like forest fires is only one of the top issues the District 1 Supervisor will have to deal with, Martin said. Other issues facing the county include a poor economy resulting from the depressed housing market; long-term, major unemployment; and a fiscally irresponsible Legislature.
By contrast, Overman-Jackman stressed transparency. “People want to talk to their supervisor, but the response has been slow or not at all,” she said.
Overman-Jackman said she’s heard a lot of complaints from Pine residents about the work on Pine Creek Road. They tell her county staff and the contractors have treated them poorly. Strawberry and Pine residents have also complained about the impact the closure of Fossil Creek Road is having on businesses, “All they’re hearing is that’s the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The Forest Service closed the road into the canyon from Strawberry, citing rock falls and maintenance concerns – plus the huge summer crowds. Arizona Public Service used to maintain the road, but stopped when it abandoned its power generation station in the canyon bottom. The county concluded it didn’t have the money to take over maintenance of the road.
Transparency is an issue Overman-Jackman has stressed since she began her bid for office. Other issues important to her: fiscal responsibility; better revenue disbursement of services and funds for Northern Gila County; National Forest Service issues related to being a better and more responsible partner; and professional oversight on county building construction to avoid in the future any waste of funds similar to those lost on the women’s jail in Globe.
Martin’s top issues
• Poor economy and the significant loss of real wealth from the depressed housing market: Martin said she doesn’t want Gila County government to make the effects of the depressed housing market any worse by increasing the county portion of the property tax bill. “We prepared for a depressed economy so that we were able to maintain stable government services without increasing property taxes.” She said the county tax rate has declined, despite a swoon in assessed values. However, rising tax rates imposed by the schools have driven up many homeowners’ tax bills, even as their home values have declined.
• Long term, major unemployment: “The state currently has Gila County tied to Pinal County for all workforce development activity which may have made sense 25 years ago when we had similar interests. Today, however, just one of their unincorporated communities - San Tan Flats - has 1.5 times as many citizens as all of Gila County,” Martin said. She added Pinal is now an urban county and it is directing the collective workforce development and job training. “I am spearheading a five eastern Arizona county consortium to petition the governor to allow us to become a new Workforce Investment Area and address our workforce development needs that are very different from urban areas.”
This effort is also tied to efforts to make the Legislature more responsive to rural issues. “The more urban Arizona becomes, the more rural we become and we need to partner with counties with similar concerns,” she said.
Given the weight Maricopa, Pima and now Pinal and Yavapai Counties carry in the Legislature and the State Transportation Board’s allocation of gas tax money for road construction, rural counties need to work in partnership for their share of the money. With a strong partnership, rural counties have a better chance at funds for road maintenance and improvements, as well as economic development and work force development.
“Individually we have little impact, jointly we could make a difference.
“If I am re-elected, I am positioned to be the new chairman of the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization,” Martin said.
This group, organized in the late 1990s to address natural resource issues, includes Apache, Graham, Greenlee and Navajo Counties, as well as Gila County. She said for the past year the group has been building a foundation from which to begin educating the state legislators that will be representing the five counties.
“Before redistricting, most of us, shared one senator and two representatives. Now, there are at least four senators and eight representatives to educate (to our needs),” Martin said.
Overman-Jackman’s top issues
Addressing the issue of county transparency, Overman-Jackman said she wants to provide better awareness of county operations to give voters more information on where their tax dollars are being spent and provide better information on county programs that are available.
• County fiscal responsibility – Overman-Jackman said she would make sure that tax dollars are spent more wisely and evenly, and that District One receives equal revenue distribution. She will also offer better budgeting oversight and review on county contracts, as well as a strong “hands-on” policy on all county construction projects.
“I want to review contracts that are presently held by all divisions of the county to make sure that they are in the best interests of District 1 residents. Providing oversight on all divisions of the county will make sure that they are within sound business practices in their daily operations,” she said.
• Overman-Jackman said she wants to promote better recreational development for safe use of the forest and better and more campsite development. “I also want to address the standard “Road Closure” issue with both the Forest Service and our congressmen,” she said, explaining that too many forest roads are closed too early and people needing to get into the forest to get firewood run the risk of fines because of the inaccessible sites.