Contributed Article By Carol Broeder
GILA COUNTY – April is observed as National County Government Month, and as a longtime member of the National Association of Counties (NACo), Gila County has this opportunity to spotlight “a moment to elevate our work and educate citizens on the importance of county government,” as NACo president Denise Winfrey, describes this month’s observance across the United States.
Since 1991 NACo has encouraged counties to actively promote county roles and responsibilities in serving residents. To kick off National County Government Month in Gila County, the Board of Supervisors, during its April 4 meeting, will approve a proclamation naming the month of April 2023 as National County Government Month, with this year’s theme: “Counties RISE!” an acronym for Resiliency, Inclusion, Solvency, and Empowerment.
Here are a few examples of ways in which Gila County practices these principles not only during the month of April but every month of the year — every year.
Resiliency: “refers to our focus on the future and determination to serve our communities even as they grow and change” in NACO’s parlance. A prime example in Gila County is the Tonto Creek Bridge, which is currently under construction after decades of attempts to secure funding, and repeated efforts from county leadership. Swollen floodwaters of Tonto Creek strand more than 1,000 residents of the growing Tonto Basin community who live on the east side of the creek. Sadly, over the years, attempts to cross the flooded creek have resulted in tragedy. In 2020, the federal Department of Transportation awarded Gila County $21 million to build the bridge. It was welcome news to District 2 County Supervisor Tim Humphrey, who represents Tonto Basin and had traveled to Washington, DC to push for the funding. “Successful approval of our grant application shows the value of the effort we’ve been making for years to educate Arizona’s congressional delegation about how essential this project is,” Humphrey said at the time. “This will save lives and help create infrastructure.”
Inclusion: “focuses on programming that ensures no one is left behind, especially those historically underserved.” Gila County’s Oral Health Programs are a splendid example of serving the underserved. Through its Cavity Free Arizona program, the county Health Department provides screenings; sealants; fluoride treatments, and silver diamine fluoride to kindergarten, second, and sixth-grade students — right at their schools. Last year’s $20,000 grant from the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation helped to expand these services to any Gila County child Pre-K through eighth grade, says Tricia Johnson, the county’s dental program specialist. Like the children’s services, all the county’s Oral Health Programs emphasize the underserved population, including adults. They provide dental screenings, fluoride treatments, oral hygiene instructions, education, and referrals to seniors as well as pregnant and postpartum mothers in Gila County. In January this year, the county Health Department received another Delta Dental Grant for $30,000, which will greatly benefit children, pregnant women, and seniors who are uninsured and have no other access to dental care.
Solvency: “means fostering economic mobility opportunities that help residents and communities.”
It’s a definition that lends itself specifically to describing the 2021 Pledged Revenue Bond Issuance, which “chopped down the mountain” of Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) liability, says Finance Director Maryn Belling. Doing so saved Gila County $11,119,412 over the next two decades “and we did it without affecting property taxes,” she explains. The county’s primary property tax rate of 4.19 per hundred has remained unchanged since 2010. “Pledged Revenue,” as the bond structure, means that Gila County committed to repaying the bond with sales tax, vehicle license tax, and PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes), Belling says. The original PSPRS liability would have cost $32,927,848. The bond reduces the overall cost, retiring the debt four years faster than the PSPRS approach.
Empowerment: “a commitment to sharing resources, educating and informing one another.”
A notable example of Gila County empowering its residents is through the Community Health Assessment (CHA) and Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), offered by the county Health Department. The CHA assessed the health status of residents across Gila County. From September 2019 through February 2020, stakeholders engaged in the process, identifying the most pressing health issues residents face. Officially rolled out in September 2022, the CHIP is a guide used by public health, community hospitals, and their partners to collaborate and respond to key factors that may limit their community’s ability to lead full, happy, and healthy lives. The CHA informed the CHIP and, together, culminated in a strategic plan with the aim of improving the overall health of Gila County. To view the results of this community-driven process, go to the county website https://www.gilacountyaz.gov/ and click on Gila County Health and Emergency Management.
Join the Celebration! Please check out our National County Government Month display in the main lobby of the Gila County Courthouse, 1400 E. Ash St., Globe, and in the lobby of the Tommie Cline Martin Complex, 610 E Hwy 260, Payson, to learn more about National County Government Month.