ST. JOHNS — There will be an election.
On their third appearance before the Apache County Board of Supervisors, the representatives of the White Mountain Special Health Care District finally received approval for a November mail-in ballot election from the supervisors.
The district was requesting an election concerning its ability to levy a secondary property tax to support the district’s activities. The residents of the district voted down the reauthorization of the tax in the November 2018 election.
The healthcare district supports the ambulance services for Round Valley and St. Johns, helps to support the White Mountain Regional Medical Center’s emergency room operations and two community clinics in the district.
A request for an election from a special taxing district is usually a routine matter. But at both the April and May meetings of the supervisors, the issue was tabled by the board. At the same meeting, two other elections, one for the Concho Wastewater Improvement District board and one for St. Johns Unified School District for a budget override, were also tabled, but subsequently approved in a special meeting of the board held May 16.
At the meeting in May, Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting had told the board that the county would likely be sued over the election whether it was approved or not approved, citing an unidentified group of citizens who oppose the district and who have the means and the will to follow through with a suit. But no citizens have attended any board meeting to speak publicly against the healthcare district.
Last Tuesday, the healthcare district’s attorney, Kristin Mackin, made the presentation to the board and answered their questions. Mackin had responded to an email letter from Whiting in late May, laying out the argument for the district’s legal right to hold an election.
In the letter, Mackin told Whiting that Arizona law requires the district to levy a tax to support its work and that any tax must be approved by voters, thus the need for an election. Further, they stated that the county has no legal basis to deny them an election.
“This time our attorney was the sole spokesperson for us. (She) stood up and basically said … we’ve answered all of the relevant items in Mr. Whiting’s letter, and we’re fully compliant with the statutes. We basically repeated the story,” said Jerry Campeau, the chairman of the board of directors for the healthcare district on a telephone interview with the Independent after the meeting.
“Why was this a problem? There was little if nothing new discussed or contested (at the meeting),” Campeau said. Campeau said that the district had been considering a suit against the county if the board had denied them the opportunity to hold their election.
Kay Dyson, former mayor of Springerville and a former member of the healthcare district board also spoke at the meeting, reminding the supervisors about why the healthcare district was formed.
“In 1995, Samaritan left us high and dry without a hospital. It’s taken us 20 years to build up two ambulance services, two clinics and a hospital,” Dyson told the supervisors.
“We cannot go back. It would not be acceptable to diminish healthcare in any way,” Dyson added, noting that in eastern Arizona, the facilities within the very rural district are the only ones available from Sanders to Greenlee County.
To pay an average of $62 to $75 a year for these services is a good value for taxpayers, she said in an interview after the meeting.
“I asked them for the vote, to allow the people to vote,” she added.
Now that the supervisors have approved the election, Campeau said that the healthcare district board plans to hold a series of public meetings across the district in oder to familiarize the public with what the district does and ask questions or offer criticism.
“There are people who are always going to be opposed to any kind of tax, that’s just life. But you have to weigh the benefits between having the services and having the tax,” Campeau said.