The Gilbert Town Council on Tuesday unanimously approved its annual contract with a Phoenix lobbyist to advocate on behalf of the town at the Legislature and other public policy venues.
The $42,000 contract with Barnes and Associates covers fees to have the agency represent Gilbert in dealings with the Legislature, Gov. Janet Napolitano and other government agencies and to help town staff obtain information about state services that affect their jobs.
Mark Barnes, owner and manager of the firm, did not return a call seeking comment. The firm's Web site says he has worked with the Legislature since 1995 and his other clients include the Pinal County Board of Supervisors and the County Supervisors Association.
The town also employs an intergovernmental relations specialist and belongs to organizations that lobby on behalf of cities.
Town Manager George Pettit said hiring an outside firm to help advocate for the town is a good use of the town's resources because it ensures officials get the biggest bang for the buck.
"We just need to have people with the ability to represent the people's interests on various issues," he said.
Chandler spokesman Dave Bigos said that city does not hire an outside lobbying firm, relying on its in-house government relations specialist, whose salary is around $100,000 a year.
Critics of cities and counties using taxpayer funding to lobby other levels of government failed to get a voter initiative banning the practice onto Arizona's 2006 statewide ballot.
Gilbert resident Fred Phillis said elected officials should not be able to lobby each other with taxpayer money, using Gilbert officials' support of the voter-passed Proposition 400 transit tax - which is funding a light-rail line unlikely to reach Gilbert along with road improvements - as an example.
"In the best-case basis it's not needed and on a worst-case basis, as you see with Gilbert and the transit tax, there's no benefit to the taxpayer," he said.
Also Tuesday, the council approved the allocation of almost $504,000 to social service and cultural agencies during the next fiscal year, the same as the current year. The council also decided not to give town employees an additional cost-of-living raise at the midpoint of the fiscal year, citing the ongoing uncertainty of the financial climate.