Claiming fiscal responsibility, District 2 Gila County Supervisor Chairman Mike Pastor on May 6 smothered two major proposals to benefit the Payson area.
Pastor smacked down a request for approximately $85,000 to move forward with a cosmetology program at the Payson campus of Gila Community College. He also was vehemently opposed to the county spending almost $500,000 to purchase the Payson NAPA building from owner Gary Barcom to provide much needed space to build an expanded and more secure county complex. Pastor’s district is dominated by Globe. North County has a majority of the population and pays the overwhelming majority of the property taxes, but the county spends most of its money in South County.
He argued that neither project was in the 2013-2014 budget and the county didn’t have enough money to add them.
Apologizing to Barcom following Pastor’s angry diatribe, District One Supervisor Tommie Martin said the issue wasn’t really the money, she believed it was because of an earlier action she had forced.
At its April 29 meeting, the supervisors accepted the study and recommendations to make adjustments to employee classification and compensation. The plan will result in about a 6 percent increase in county salaries. That increase is in the county’s budget for this year. However, should the raises stay in place in the future, each department must adjust its budget to free up the money. That probably means cutting personnel, a fact Martin forced the supervisors to put on the record. In turn, that has put the supervisors all in hot water with staff, she said.
“It’s something we have known all along. We’ve talked about it in a roundabout way,” Martin said.
Both the GCC-Payson cosmetology program and NAPA property purchase are time sensitive.
The Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (NAVIT) came to the county with a “found” $40,000 a few months ago to launch a cosmetology education program at the Payson campus of Gila Community College. However, the money had to be spent by August 2014 or it would go away. The proposed seed money from NAVIT has grown to $160,000 and GCC administration has said it can bring another $60,000 to the project.
To launch the vocational program by the Fall 2014 semester, the college asked the county for an economic development grant of $84,535. The money would be used to finish the site preparation for modular building to house the program. Funds from NAVIT and GCC would purchase the modular building, retrofit, upgrade and furnish it, build sidewalks and landscape the site.
Pastor said he was concerned that the bid package for the program stated “at county direction” the county would take care of the site prep. He wanted to know who gave the “direction” since it was not the board of supervisors.
“I’m concerned about spending this kind of money,” Pastor said.
Martin said the “county direction” statement was miscommunication. The discussions about the project were based on what was done in Globe when the county helped get a cosmetology program started there for GCC five years ago. She added the same thing should have been done in Payson at that time, but it was classified as a “pilot” program and limited to the benefit of residents in southern Gila County.
Regarding the money, Martin said she believes there is approximately $25,000 in the county’s economic development and another fund, plus $80,000 in natural resources money.
“Are you willing to jeopardize the natural resources (money that would be used) for fighting fires?” Pastor asked Martin.
“That’s why I suggest taking it from the other two funds first and then natural resources. We are six weeks away from a new budget,” Martin said.
“Yes, I’m willing to risk it. We need it here and we need it now,” she added.
The matter was finally tabled to a special meeting of the supervisors on Tuesday, May 13.
For more details on the cosmetology program for GCC-Payson, see accompanying article by Michele Nelson.
Getting services for Rim Country residents from Gila County has always been a struggle.
As recently as the mid-1970s, the only county presence here was a poorly constructed jail with a skeleton crew and minimal resources to maintain the miles of roads when Rim Country lacked any incorporated towns.
Eventually, the county bought office complexes at the corner of South Colcord and West Frontier and on East Highway 260 and added onto the little, dark jail on West Main and South Colcord. The county also expanded the road maintenance yard east of Star Valley.
All the while, the county poured millions of dollars into facilities in Globe, some of them as poorly constructed as the Payson jail. The county has built, remodeled and rented space to accommodate its almost 600 county employees, most of them based in Globe. Northern Gila County has long supplied most of the county’s revenue and the last census showed a majority of the county population now lives in the north.
Advocates tried to a pass a bond in 2007 to create a Gila County jail district and raise the money to build both a new jail and courthouse complex to better serve all residents. Currently, the small Payson courthouse doesn’t have room for jury trials. As a result, jurors and defendants and lawyers end up shuttling to Globe and deputies spend a lot of time driving prisoners back and forth from Globe to Payson. However, the effort to expand facilities here went down to defeat: the jail district failed 5,414 to 1,770 and the bond issue was defeated 5,408 to 1,770.
Earlier this year, the supervisors heard proposals to expand and improve the county’s Payson area facilities. These included purchasing a residential property next to the modular unit housing the county’s satellite recorder and assessor offices and the NAPA building.
The residential property, on West Frontier, was demolished and will provide parking for now.
If the county buys the NAPA building, crews would tear it down and build a new $2 million courthouse on the site eventually.
County representatives have been negotiating with Barcom to buy his building for several months. The county obtained an appraisal of $320,000 and has been working to help Barcom and his tenant, who owns the NAPA franchise, find a suitable location for the business move.
Barcom obtained his own appraisal, placing the value of the building at $430,000.
The proposed price went up to $450,500 when Barcom and the county attorney agreed that state statute requires the county to also pay the costs to relocate an active business when it buys a property.
“Where’s the money going to come from?” Pastor asked. “We are at the end of the budget year and funds are tight. Right now I don’t see us spending $450,500 to buy a building we’re going to tear down. It’s not budgeted. I have a lot of problems with this. I will not support it at this time. Maybe next budget year,” he continued.
Supervisor John Marcanti, whose District 3 is dominated by Globe voters, echoed Pastor’s sentiments.
Steve Stratton, director of the county’s public works department, who spearheaded the negotiations with Barcom, pointed out the county still has nearly $400,000 in its capital improvements fund.
That money is earmarked for yet another Globe project — further remodeling the courthouse to accommodate the county school superintendent and assessor’s offices. The overwhelming majority of the county’s economic development money in the past five years has gone for projects in the south. However, Stratton said the money wouldn’t get spent in the current fiscal year.
“We have the funds to get started. We have quite a liability up here,” Martin said. Both the jail facility and courthouse in Payson are plagued with security issues that pose a potential risk to employees, area residents and the prisoner population.
Barcom is also facing a time crunch. He has had to have two extensions on negotiations for a new facility for the business, with a deadline of May 30.
Marcanti said the county should go forward with the remodeling plans for the Globe courthouse and put the Payson jail and courthouse in next year’s budget.
“Once we tear the building down there is no guarantee we will get $2 million to build a new courthouse. I know Payson needs the facility,” Pastor said.
The supervisors ultimately agreed to revisit the issue at its June 17 meeting in order to give staff time to crunch the numbers.
Later in the meeting, as Marcanti proposed, the board authorized the staff to get bids on the Globe remodeling project.