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What Navajo County will cut if Prop. 421 fails

NAVAJO COUNTY — OK, so Navajo County has problems.

Maybe even serious problems.

Maybe even layoff 20 percent of the staff and curtail service problems.

And maybe they sound desperate for you to vote for Prop. 421, which adds a third of a cent to the sales tax to create a jail district – even though they don’t need any more jails. You’re thinking it’s just more money out of your pocket – like a penny on a Starbucks Americano.

It all sounds complicated. And heck, you live in Show Low — or Snowflake or Winslow or some other little town. You’re thinking, why should I care?

Glad you asked.

Would you believe some police officer in Snowflake answering a dangerous call late at night won’t have backup?

Would you believe people might die for lack of a flu shot?

Would you believe no one will show up after business hours to capture that rabid dog, or fox?

Your school district might have to borrow money?

The sale of your house might fall through?

No more early voting?

Fewer police patrols near campus?

Less emergency planning?

Really? The county does all that?

Yes.

Navajo County’s already laying plans to slash its workforce and services in the event Prop. 421 fails. This seems prudent — voters turned down an almost identical measure last year. So the county has penciled out the cuts if voters again decide not to create a jail district; currently, the county has a balanced budget.

The whole problem arises from a decade of cuts, thanks to the excruciatingly slow recovery of rural areas from the 2008 recession. Navajo County has eliminated about 16 percent of its workforce since the recession. Worse yet, state lawmakers struggling to balance their budget shifted a lot of costs to the counties.

Then to add insult to injury, air pollution requirements and inexorable economics will soon force the closure of the Navajo Generating Station power plant, and the coal mine that supplies it. This will cost Navajo County $2.5 million in tax revenue. The imminent closure of the Cholla coal-fired plant will cost the county another million bucks.

So if voters approve the $3.5 million boost in the sales tax, Navajo County will pretty much break even because towns will actually get $1 million as a result of the elimination of jail fees. Navajo County is not talking about added services – just hanging on by its chipped fingernails. The money most emphatically won’t go to boost the budget for jails, thanks to the county’s success in finagling a change in state law.

Still, you’re wondering what the county actually does – especially for folks in incorporated towns.

Well, the county has thoughtfully prepared a list of impacts on citizens throughout the county – even if they’re living in town. Granted, the county’s hoping the list will convince enough citizens to change their minds that the measure won’t lose by 164 votes – again. So here’s a list of likely impacts if voters once again reject Prop. 421.

Jail fees paid by towns:

So here’s an irony. The only people who get a windfall out of the deal are the residents of incorporated towns. Right now, towns pay an annual fee so they can send people police arrest to the county jail. If Prop 421 passes, everyone in the county will be paying the extra jail district sales tax, and the law precludes charging towns an additional fee to use the jail.

All told, cities and towns would save about $1 million they could use for improved police services or limos for council members – that’s up to them. The transfer of money to the towns means the county will end up with just $2.5 million generated by the $3.5 million tax.

Sheriff’s Office:

The Navajo County Sheriff’s office covers an area bigger than most states. Those deputies provide crucial backup for town police forces. So when a big emergency develops, everyone shows up. Even more importantly, during those long watches of the night, sometimes the only backup the on-duty police officer in one of those little towns can count on is the sheriff’s deputy patrolling the turf next door. Well, if the sheriff has to cut staff 20 percent, many of those late-night patrols will disappear. That means a long response time – and a lack of backup. The sheriff’s office would also reduce patrols around schools, which currently get extra attention.

Public Health:

The county provides all kinds of public health services you don’t think about. So Animal Control would go from a 24/7 response to its 1,300 annual calls to a staff that could respond only during business hours – even if you’re dealing with a dog with rabies. The Food Safety department inspects 85 percent of establishments every year and responds to an average of 20 complaints a month. That would drop to inspecting 15 percent of businesses. Ditto investigations into infectious diseases, which now total 2,000 a month – with cases opened within 24 hours. Well, forget that. Investigations will drop to 1,500 annually – with a 2-3 week response time. Oh, yeah – did we mention the measles outbreak? And finally, the county health district also provides about 2,200 vaccinations annually. This should drop to 1,200 – on top of eliminating the county’s flu clinics. Oh, yeah – did you know the flu killed 80,000 people in the US last year alone?

Planning and Zoning:

The county approves new business and development in all unincorporated areas. The projected 20 percent cut in staff will slow down that already creaky process. So instead of 2-3 weeks for plan review, plan on 4-5 weeks. Instead of getting a building inspector out in 24 hours so you can put the roof on, plan on something longer. The county will likely shut its Heber office. Worse yet, you’re going to have to live with that junk pile next door. The county likely can’t afford to send anyone out to do code enforcement.

Treasurer:

The county collects taxes for just about every government entity and district in the county. Right now, the county posts tax

payments in 3-4 weeks. Well, double that – figure 8- 10 weeks. Right now, you can talk to someone in that office within the day. Better plan on two weeks. Banking and audit requests get processed in two weeks – better double that as well. This can have surprising effects. For instance, the county forwards property taxes to the schools every month. But the delay in processing could delay payments by a week or two. That means many school districts will have to float a loan to get by until their tax payments arrive – paying interest all the while.

Recorders office;

The recorder’s office files deeds and all manner of legal paperwork. You can’t buy a house and secure your loan and sign that terrifying bundle of paperwork and close the sale until everything gets recorded. Right now the office has one-day service, answers phone calls the same day and has an office in south county – where most the people live. If Prop 421 fails, plan on one-week service, at least a day’s wait for a callback and driving to Holbrook if you need to talk to someone.

Assessor’s Office;

The county assessor establishes the value of every piece of property in the county for tax purposes. If property values are rising, so do tax revenues. But only if the assessor has time to do the math. Right now, it takes about a week to assess values when property changes hands and new construction gets assessed in the tax year it’s built. That boosts revenues for just about everyone. But if Prop. 421 dies, plan on about five weeks to assess property sales and more than a year to catch up with new construction. Just that could cost schools, towns and the county more than the increase in the sales tax will generate. The delay could also further slow the issuance of building permits, costing developers more money by slowing construction.

County Attorney

What do they say – justice delayed is justice denied? Well, buckle up. The county attorney’s office has already given up going after deadbeat dads not paying their child support. Now it’s going to get worse. The county attorney’s office has an average caseload of 85 cases per attorney – which already sounds crazy. In fact, it is: Navajo County prosecutors carry the highest caseloads in the state. If Prop. 421 dies – the case load goes up to 100. This means the county attorney’s office will have to think long and hard about prosecuting a crime: Expect a fire sale on plea deals. The county attorney’s office now often handles the prosecution for cases in municipal courts, so towns don’t have to hire their own attorneys. Well, that partnership will die. So not only will towns lose that $1 million windfall from the jail fees, they’ll probably have to shell out extra money to hire their own prosecutors.

Emergency Management:

The county’s the key agency when it comes to managing emergencies, whether it’s an approaching wildfire or a flood. The county operates the emergency phone response system, coordinates evacuation plans, pulls together emergency services – you name it. The emergency management staff gives talks and makes appearances at least five times a month. They also constantly apply for and manage about $1.5 million in annual grants. The office figures the projected staff cuts will limit outreach to one event a month and might result in the grants dropping to $900,000 annually – a loss of nearly $600,000. Oh, did we mention that they evacuated people this month in Flagstaff due to the Museum Fire – and the Paradise Fire in California not only destroyed the whole town but killed 88 people because they couldn’t flee fast enough?

Elections:

Right now, the county elections department operates 39 early voting/satellite voting sites in an effort to make voting easier. That’s crucial given the county’s already low voter turnout. At least two poll workers man each polling station and the department runs elections for schools and fire districts. Well, scratch the early voting. And be prepared to stand in line for lack of poll workers. Moreover, schools and special districts will have to conduct their own elections – which will again increase costs to taxpayers.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com


Barbara Bruce/The Independent  

Coming out early July 27 to observe the annual capturing and banding of hummingbirds at the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area were spectators from near and far. The Arizona Game and Fish Department brought in Sheri Williamson, author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America, and her husband Tom Wood, both directors, naturalists and founders of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) for the 16th annual Hummingbird Festival. See additional photos on Page 2.


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33rd annual Eagar Days is Saturday Aug. 3

EAGAR — The town’s 33rd annual Eagar Days is coming Friday and Saturday, August 2-3 at Ramsey Park.

All of the popular events that have been part of past Eagar Days, like the Logging Rodeo, volleyball tournament, slow pitch tournament, and other activities, will be part of this year’s event.

Being that the Logging Rodeo is among the more popular parts of Eagar Days every year, it will still run for two days from Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 2-3. There is still time to sign up for one of the Logging Rodeo events and there will be pre-registration both days.

Town of Eagar Deputy Clerk and Event Coordinator, Jessica Vaughan, said not to worry, one of the very popular things associated with the Annual Eagar Days, the pancake breakfast put on by the fire department under the ramada at Ramsey Park, will take place at 7-9 a.m.on Saturday to kick the day off right.

Bargain hunters and vendor-style foodies will still find plenty of people selling their wares and culinary creations, but the town is putting a little more into making Eagar Days kid and family-oriented.

So, they are having two greased pig races for the younger folks in which the winner gets to take the pig home. Then there’s the always popular mud mania run for the kids, the pony stick race, and a target shooting game for kids. A petting zoo, and wildlife and crafts will be hosted by the people who run the R Lazy J Wildlife Ranch in Round Valley. Sparky the Fire Dog will also be there and there will be a slew of kids games.

Other events include a helicopter fly-in and there will be two hunter’s education classes for both kids and/or adults so interested, and the volleyball tournament under the Dome at Round Valley High School. Preregistration for the tournament needs to be done before the 9 a.m. start time.

And remember, there is no cost to just attend Eagar Days and soak up the small town mountain atmosphere and fun, or just hang out at the park and watch everything go by.

Traffic can get a little congested during Eagar Days, however experience shows it is usually not too bad. But bring a dose of motorist patience just in case, and remember to obey all signs and traffic laws and most importantly, have plenty of Eagar Days fun.

For more information go to www.eagaraz.gov or call the town at 928-333-4128.


Still battling drug wars

NAVAJO COUNTY — The Navajo County Board of Supervisors last week approved the latest installment of a $123,000 state and federal grant that gives the county a front-seat ticket to the nation’s ever-evolving war on drugs.

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission’s Byrne Grant knits together every county and police force in the state in an effort to cope with an international drug trafficking network with huge effects in every community in the nation.

Most of the money goes to pay for prosecutors and police officers, with some funding for things like lab testing and a national fingerprint database. In 2018. The program focused on breaking up drug sales and distribution rings, but in practice about 82 percent of the resulting arrests were for simple possession.

“Through the Byrne grant, we are able to have dedicated attorneys that punish offenders of drug trafficking in Navajo County,” said Lynda Young, office manager for the Navajo County Attorney’s Office. “This grant, funded through the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, allows our attorneys to work closely with law enforcement, strengthening collaborations with other agencies, resulting in stronger investigations. We expect to deprive these dealers and manufacturers from profits through seizures and forfeitures. These efforts will slow down the drug operations in our county that impact drug-related robbery and theft, drug-related domestic violence, drug-related child abuse, drugs ripping apart families and drugs invading our schools.”

In 2018, some $318,000 went to Gila County, $225,000 to Apache County and $234,000 to Navajo County. So Gila County got far more money, although it has less than half the population of either of the other two rural counties.

The statewide report on the fund offered a glimpse of the progress of the nation’s long, losing, very costly war on drugs. A lot of the money from the grants comes from the seizure of the assets of people convicted of drug crimes – including cars and houses.

The report revealed dramatic differences between counties when it comes to both how much money they received through the state and federal grant program, as well as the results.

For instance, the county-by-county reports showed that about 80 percent of the drug arrests in Gila County were for possession – compared just 29 percent in Navajo County. So Gila County’s spending a lot more money per capita than either Navajo or Apache – but most of the money has gone into arresting street-level users rather than the networks that distribute and sell the drugs. Perhaps that accounts for Navajo County seizing $2,500 in drugs for each dollar received through the grants while neighboring Gila County seized just $51 per dollar spent – at least in 2018.

Each county in the 2018 summary also provided a narrative of a couple of big cases. Those summaries suggest that many of the cases result from random traffic stops rather than from elaborate investigations. Since 1988, the program has handed out a total of $367 million in grants and helped account for 129,000 arrests, according to the 2018 summary prepared by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

The 2018 year-end report detailed the grants received by each county for the police apprehension category – which totaled some $3.2 million statewide. That total included $1.3 million from the federal government, $1.1 million from the state government and a $821,000 local match.

The reports showed marijuana still accounts for many of the arrests and most of the value of the drugs seized in most counties, despite the widespread availability of medical marijuana and the legalization of all uses of the drug in Colorado and California. Marijuana-based arrests and seizures have been declining, while arrests for meth and heroin have been on the rise. This reflects the nation’s latest drug epidemic, which started with prescription drug abuse and has now morphed into a big rise in the use of heroin. Areas like Navajo, Apache and Gila counties have been especially hard hit.

The nation has invested heavily in trying to stamp out the use and sale of psychoactive drugs in the past 30 years, with decidedly mixed results.

The nation spends an estimated $51 billion annually on investigations, arrests and incarcerations for drug use, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. The so-called “war on drugs” in the US has produced the world’s highest incarceration rate. The US locks up 714 out of every 100,000 residents and Arizona locks up almost 1,200 of every 100,000 residents. The US has 5 percent of the world’s population and 22 percent of its prisoners. The incarceration rate has increased five-fold in the past 40 years. People arrested for drug crimes account for about 21 percent state prisoners and 55 percent of federal prisoners.

Roughly 1.5 million Americans are arrested each year for drug offenses, with differences in incarceration rates for blacks, Native Americans and Hispanics when compared to whites. For instance, African Americans account for 35 percent of drug arrests but 74 percent of those sentenced to prison for drug possession.

Various studies have found little long-term effect on the availability or use of illegal drugs as enforcement efforts have waxed and waned – or targeted one drug or another.

Navajo County Highlights from 2018 (from annual report)

• Arrested a Winslow couple selling drugs, who had a video surveillance system in their home that essentially recorded all their illegal activities, including smoking methamphetamine, dealing methamphetamine, and engaging in violent domestic fights (at times involving weapons) in front of their two small children. Sometimes, the children tried to break up the fights. The father of one of the suspects’ worked for Navajo County Court Security. He made multiple threats to Navajo County, and specific Law Enforcement Officers, after hearing of his daughter’s arrest. He was eventually terminated for those actions. The Department of Child Safety took the two children, who were eventually placed with other family members. The couple was released on bond from their arrest, only to be arrested again weeks later in Yavapai County for transportation of over a half pound of methamphetamine. They face charges in Yavapai as well as their initial charges with Navajo County. This drug trafficking operation resulted in the seizure of 1.75 pounds of Methamphetamine, 22 guns, and the arrest of 22 individuals associated with this criminal enterprise.

• A Navajo County Sheriff’s K-9 unit assisted with a traffic stop on a vehicle on Interstate 40 EB near Holbrook,and found 12 pounds of marijuana and a 1.5-pound package of a white powder, heavily sealed in plastic. The car’s occupants denied any knowledge of the package, which police took to the lab for testing. The results came back as pure Fentanyl. By following procedure and airing on the side of caution, the deputies avoided a potentially dangerous exposure.

• A K-9 Deputy assisted in an arrest on Interstate 40. The driver and the passenger had conflicting stories on their travels, and there were multiple indicators of illegal activity. After a search of the vehicle, more than $13,000 along with marijuana and methamphetamine were found in the vehicle. The methamphetamine was even mixed in with the money. A check through police and FBI data bases revealed one of them was part of a large methamphetamine drug ring involving the East Side Crips. The FBI is trying to wrap up their case on the Crips and information we have found during our investigation, including jail calls, will aid in the takedown of this major crime syndicate involving a major gang.

Apache County 2018 highlights:

•A “drug interdiction operation” on Interstate 40 between May 7 and May 11, 2018, intercepted 13 illegal drug loads, resulting in 28 arrests in total. Seizures included 747 pounds of marijuana, 2 pounds of THC oil, 2 pounds of marijuana wax, 3.3 grams of heroin, and 20 pounds of methamphetamine as well as $10,853 in U.S. currency. Some of the subjects arrested were discovered to be involved in federal level investigations

• A federal indictment closed a 2015 case involving a 30-pound methamphetamine seizure The seizure case started as a collaborative investigation with the U.S. DEA and the Apache County Sheriff’s Office. The suspects were involved in a large drugtrafficking organization, where numerous people were indicted on federal drug trafficking and murder charges as a result of the investigation.

• In December, Apache County Special Crimes Enforcement K-9 Officers assisted with four arrests after making traffic stops on U.S. Interstate 40, near Chambers, Arizona. Officers discovered 154.5 pounds of marijuana and 2,095 THC oil vials. The arrests led to the issuance of numerous search warrants, which led to numerous drug-related arrests and the seizure of several firearms.

• Apache County Special Crimes Enforcement Team (SCET) members seized 47 pounds of marijuana and 30grams of methamphetamine, with the use of confidential informants. The case expanded into outlaw motorcycle groups operating in the rural areas of eastern New Mexico and Northeastern Arizona.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com


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Bagnal Fire near Show Low sparked Friday

SHOW LOW — The lightning-caused Bagnal Fire that started Friday, July 26 about a mile southwest of town was at about 50 acres early on Saturday, July 27 burning in grass and ponderosa pine. Forest Service officials said it poses no threat to structures or local infrastructure.

On Monday morning, Doreen Ethelbah-Gatewood, a public affairs officer for the Apache Sitgreaves National Forests said the fire “had significant growth on Saturday night,” and was at near 1,000 acres by Monday morning. The Forest Service was still working to establish an accurate estimate of the fire’s size. She said that part of the fire’s growth was due to burn-out operations. She said that initially the fire was being managed as a modified supression fire, but fire crews are now working towards full suppression. The Forest Service stated that there were four engines, a single dozer and one crew working the fire.

She said that rains predicted should help firefighters, and that the Forest Service expects the fire to be completely contained and out this week.

Motorists on State Route 260, 77 and U.S. 60, along with local residents, saw an increase in smoke over the weekend. Smoke was visible in and around Show Low as of Monday morning, July 29, with heavy morning smoke in the Linden area.

Anyone with questions is asked to call Doreen Ethelbah-Gatewood at 928-205-9603 or go to the Forest Service website at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/asnfs, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/apachesitreavesnfs.

Information on wildfires can also be found by going to Northeastern Arizona Public Information System at http://311info.net/ or by calling 311 or 928-333-3412.

Trudy Balcom contributed to this story.