Something Fishy About County’S Industrial Development

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This don’t smell right.

So we’re glad that Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin blocked the routine, self-recommended reappointment of four members of the obscure, but vital, Industrial Development Authority.

You’re scratching your head — right? You’re thinking, what the heck’s the Industrial Development Authority?

Our point exactly.

The county set up the Authority back in 2006, with $400,000 in seed money from the Asarco mining company in return for low bond rates on a project. The county kicks in another $45,000 annually. The Authority also charges fees to the businesses it helps. Tasked with bringing industry to Gila County, the Authority either sets up loan packages or outright grants to help provide the infrastructure needed to lure job-producing firms to the county.

The Authority had a mixed record up until 2010 when the county manager who really set it up in the first place died. Since then, the Authority hasn’t done much of anything — except to incur lawyers’ bills.

Out of the just under $600,000 the Authority has spent since 2007, about 22 percent went to the lawyers who wrote the various agreements and bond packages.

Almost all of the money the Authority has spent has gone to various businesses in southern Gila County — another example of how Globe business interests have used their dominance of the board of supervisors to turn the county into their own little piggy bank.

Please note, the bulk of the county’s property tax revenue comes from Northern Gila County, which also now has more than half of the population. But Globe still dominates the board.

The strange little dust-up about an agency with a vital mission that that no one has heard of perfectly illustrates the muddle and confusion in the region’s haphazard efforts to broaden and diversify the economy. The well-intentioned efforts have mostly proved ineffectual in recruiting new businesses during the long economic limbo since the housing crash. Payson has made energetic but fitful efforts, while the various county entities have accomplished approximately nothing.

If you want to know how bizarrely lopsided the Authority’s priorities have become, cast your mind back to last summer when the Rim County Educational Foundation was raising money to pay for the environmental assessment so it could buy 260 acres from the Forest Service for a university campus here. That campus represents the biggest economic development opportunity in years — with maybe 300 good jobs on campus and hundreds more in spin-off businesses. Based on the impact of similar sized campuses elsewhere, the campus will likely inject $150 million annually into the local economy.

So you’d have thought the Authority would have rushed forward with creative ways to provide the $150,000 needed for the assessment, instead of letting the effort to raise the money privately delay the vital project by perhaps six months. Now the backers are struggling for a formula that will enable them to move forward with the project while assuring the Forest Service they will preserve any artifacts and archeological sites they uncover. Sounds like a county agency charged with boosting the economy would be all over that question.

Instead, the Authority seemed preoccupied with paying lawyers to draft an agreement with a hospital already operating in Globe for a loan package the hospital probably won’t actually take.

Supervisor Martin blocked the routine reappointment of four members of the board. She has now appealed to public-spirited Northern Gila County residents to apply for appointment to the Authority. You might have to hold your nose a bit at first until you can get the windows open — but this board’s ripe for change.

Comments

H. Wm. Rhea III 10 months ago

Just one more good reason to split the County in two.

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