Legislator backs off from proposed split of Pima County - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Legislator backs off from proposed split of Pima County

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Posted: Monday, February 17, 2014 9:30 am | Updated: 4:34 pm, Mon Feb 17, 2014.

Saying there are too many questions and too little time to answer them, a Southern Arizona lawmaker has quashed her proposal to split away a portion of Pima County.

Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, said Friday her legislation to put Green Valley, Sahuarita and surrounding areas into Santa Cruz County generated lots of calls from area residents on both sides of the issue. But what SB 1357 also produced, she said, were a whole bunch of logistical questions on exactly how that would work.

For example, she said, residents of the affected area wanted to know how that would affect library services now provided by Pima County.

“There were people concerned about school districts,” Griffin told Capitol Media Services. “There were people concerned about insurance.”

At the same time, Griffin said she has gotten positive feedback from not only those who live in the area but also Santa Cruz County residents who would have to approve accepting the new territory.

But Griffin also pointed out that Monday is the last day for her to hear the issue in the Senate Government and Environment Committee which she chairs. There already are 20 different measures on the agenda for the afternoon meeting, meaning precious little time to spend on such a controversial issue.

So Griffin said the issue is dead – at least for this year.

“There's no sense in rushing something through,” she said.

Griffin, who represents part of the affected area, said she envisions having public hearings later this year. At the very least, she said the additional time should help answer various outstanding practical questions on how the process would work.

There is no real roadmap.

Arizona's 15 counties were created over the last 150 years from the original four. But in each case, an existing county was split into new ones.

That most recently occurred in 1982 when voters in northern Yuma County chose to split away, forming La Paz County. But that resulted in a lawsuit about which county was entitled to which assets, litigation that took five years to get resolved by the Arizona Supreme Court

A similar situation could develop here, with questions of whether Santa Cruz County, in absorbing area residents, is also entitled to things like a share of sheriff's patrol vehicles. And it also appears that even if the area becomes part of Santa Cruz County its property owners remain on the hook for existing Pima County bonds.

“There needs to be an education process on what it would do, both pros and cons,” Griffin said. “But I won't move forward until we address the issues.”

In putting off debate on SB 1357, the legally required elections could not take place this year. And, absent a special election, that means a 2016 vote, giving both sides of the debate a chance to try to influence those who will be going to the polls.

As crafted, the split would independently require the consent of both a majority of those living in the affected area as well as a majority of those living in the existing Santa Cruz County. Griffin's proposal makes no account for getting approval from those living in what would be left of Pima County.

Griffin repeated earlier statements that the idea of the split is unrelated to efforts to construct the open pit Rosemont Copper mine in the affected area. Pima County officials have been hostile to the plans and have voted to oppose it.

“I never even talked to Rosemont about the issue,” she said.

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