Does Northern Gila County get swindled when it comes to county spending and services? And how exactly did that question end up at the center of the debate between incumbent Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin and challenger Hallie Overman-Jackman?
Hang on: Let’s see if we can sort out both questions.
Overman-Jackman has mounted an unexpectedly tough challenge to Martin and hung much of her critique on the assertion that she’ll fight to equalize funding and services between north and south. She has repeatedly asserted that Payson pays 80 percent of the county taxes but benefits from just 17 percent of county services.
Martin, whose district covers most of Payson, Pine and Strawberry has countered with her own ads disputing Overman-Jackman’s figures.
Mind you, Martin has advocated for North County for years, but has consistently hit the wall of district lines that anchor two of the three supervisors in Globe — although it has fewer residents than Payson.
North county had a golden opportunity this year to redress that imbalance. Redistricting created a true swing district and North County had a great candidate in the person of judge Ronnie McDaniel. However, low turnout in the north doomed his bid. Instead, Globe businessman John Marcanti won the seat — thanks to a healthy turnout among Globe Democrats.
As a result, North County will likely get even less attention from the new board majority than we did when Shirley Dawson held the swing seat.
So does Overman-Jackman have it right when she faults Martin for allowing District 1 to fork over 80 percent of Gila County’s money in return for only 17 percent of county services?
Alas, although she makes a good point — her numbers look bogus.
Certainly, the county spends more money in Globe than in Payson. Partly that’s because the county jail and the bulk of the county court system lies in Globe. Moreover, many county services are doled out based on income —like the county’s $3.5 million match for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), which provides medical care for about 30 percent of county residents.
But does District 1 provide 80 percent of county revenue in return for 17 percent of county services?
Nope. Afraid not — according to figures from the county budget.
The county actually has a $97 million budget — give or take. But the county simply passes along most of that money to special districts — collects state and federal grants for specific purposes. Clearly, District 1 taxes don’t come close to 80 percent of that $97 million.
But just to be careful, let’s limit the discussion to the county’s $37 million general fund, which covers most county functions like the sheriff, the jails, the courts, general county government, county payments for indigent health care to the AHCCCS system and other odds and ends.
About $20 million of the money in the general fund comes from property taxes, about $5 million from sales taxes and the rest from fees, grants and other sources.
If we look at just the property taxes, Payson accounts for about 36 percent and all of District 1 about 60 percent, which remains well short of 80 percent. District 1 residents probably contribute a similar share from other revenue sources like sales taxes.
So, the 80 percent figure seems over stated.
But how about the “services” number: Does District 1 contribute even 60 percent of the taxes and receive only 17 percent of the services?
Again, It’s hard to justify that number.
For instance, the county spends about $21 million on courts and law enforcement —with a big chunk going to the county jail.
So how do you count that “service”?
The county has no tally on how many county employees work in Globe and how many work in Payson. But 47 percent of county prisoners get booked into the small jail in Payson. Many then get transferred to the much larger jail in Globe. So does that mean District 1 gets 47 percent of the “service” from the county jail system?
The same calculation applies to other county functions, like the $3.5 million spent on the state’s match for AHCCCS, which pays for health care for poor families and medically bankrupt nursing home residents. The county doesn’t have a north-south breakdown on AHCCCS recipients — but it’s based on need and income, so north-south considerations don’t come into play.
Now, it’s certainly true that more county employees work in Globe than in Payson — which means money collected in Payson does more to stimulate the economy in Globe than here at home.
Moreover, the county spends about a million a year on the county fairgrounds in Globe — and only a fraction as much on the Payson Event Center. Then again, the county has spent a lot of money in the past couple of years on thinning projects and the establishment of a network of water bladders to help firefighters snuff out brush fires.
So while it seems clear North County provides a majority of the money and likely receives a minority of the benefit — the 80 percent/17 percent figure seems fanciful.
Of course, one can lose track of the forest from bumping into thickets of statistical trees.
Even if we can agree that spending and benefits remain lopsided, does that make for much of an issue in the District 1 contest?
Not likely. No matter who wins the District 1 seat this year — she’ll once again face the unified front of two supervisors based in Globe.
And for that, you’d have to blame the North County Independents and Democrats who didn’t bother to turn out to vote for Ronnie McDaniel in the primary.
Not to wax all literary on you — but as Cassius observed: “The fault is not in our stars, dear Brutus, it is in ourselves, that we are underlings.”