Navajo County Government Center sign

HOLBROOK — The Navajo County Board of Supervisors this week approved a series of agreements large and small to provide everything from advice on growing crops to classes for kids in trouble with the law.

The flurry of agreements underscores the complicated task of counties, serving as the bureaucratic middleman between the state and federal governments and both people receiving those services and the cities and towns within the county borders.

The county administers the major elements of the criminal justice system, probation, unemployment, health care, imposing and collecting taxes and a bewildering host of other functions.

One of the big actions this week involved earmarking $50,000 that came in from the federal government to provide classes and job training and counseling for youth in the court system.

Navajo County in 2018 went through the wrenching decision to close down it’s juvenile detention facilities as part of a budget-cutting effort. The lockup for juveniles was expensive to operate, but held an average of only two kids most of the time. The county now sends juveniles a judge orders locked up to juvenile detention facilities in Florence. The move prompted the county to seek ways to bolster services for juveniles in trouble with the law.

So the county has been building up its alternative services.

A key component of that effort is the Navajo County Accommodation District, which provides classes and other services for kids in the system.

On Tuesday, the board approved shifting $50,000 from the federal funded “forest fees” account to the Accommodation District.

That requires another round of explanation. The federal government provides “forest fee” money to rural counties that have a huge amount of non-tax-paying federal lands within their boundaries. The money is intended to help make up for the lack of private property taxes. The federal government used to collect logging, mining and grazing revenues and pass along a portion of that money through forest fees.

However, as logging and grazing tapered off on federal lands, the amount of money paid through forest fees has dwindled – and grown much more unpredictable. The county passes along most of the money from the forest fees to school districts, including the county school system, which administers the Accommodation district.

The board also approved a $20,000 contract with the University of Arizona to provide Cooperative Extension classes, mostly focused on plants and agriculture.

The arrangement mostly helps farmers, ranchers and gardeners keep up on the latest research and methods. The U of A experts have also played a key role in offering advice on range management when it comes to everything from dealing with invasive weeds to coping with the drought.

And just to show you the diversity of the county’s responsibilities, the supervisors also approved a $5,000 amendment to its agreements with Show Low, Winslow and Holbrook to provide prosecution and case management services for municipal courts. The arrangement allows the cities to rely on the county attorney’s office, rather than everyone providing all their own services and prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the supervisors approved a much bigger criminal justice grant-funded program as well. The board approved a $60,000 local match to secure a $240,000 state grant to support the Major Crimes Apprehension Team operations. The state and federal money will help fund positions for investigators in the sheriff’s office as well as the police departments of Show Low, Snowflake-Taylor and Winslow. The money from the state mostly comes from RICO money, assets seized in the course of major criminal investigations – mostly drugs.

The county puts in the grant application and gathers up the matching local funds, then doles out the money to the cities, based on various criteria. Almost all the money goes to provide salaries and benefits for police officers and investigators, while also ensuring that the scattered cities and the county can work together on big investigations, including drug trafficking in the region.

The grant comes with 20 pages of fine-print strings attached, which the county and cities receiving the funds have to make sure they don’t violate – including things like making sure none of the money is used to influence state or federal lawmakers to not having porn on any of the computer networks paid for with the funds.

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

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

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