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FLORENCE — Eloy, Florence, Mammoth and Maricopa will receive an equal share of federal Community Development Block Grant funding for the next two years, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors has decided.

The board last month delayed action on a plan for distributing the money amid concerns that Mammoth was due to receive so little. The proposal before the board at that time would have distributed the grant based 25% on population, 50% on poverty and 25% on housing needs. Mammoth, with only 1,600 people, would have received only about 5% of the allocation.

To give Mammoth a bigger share, Florence proposed a minimum of $100,000 for each community, with the rest distributed according to the formula. But Wendy Gort of Mammoth told the board March 11 that would still leave Mammoth with the short end “because of our population.”

Supervisor Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, made the motion to split the grant equally and the rest of the board agreed.

This is Pinal County’s first year of “entitlement status,” receiving its CDBG directly from the federal government instead of through the state. The county will also funnel CDBG grants to Eloy, Florence, Mammoth and Maricopa, with the supervisors determining the criteria.

The more populous city of Casa Grande will receive its CDBG directly, and other Pinal County communities will continue to receive their grants through the Central Arizona Governments organization.

Budget

The board also held preliminary budget discussions with county Budget Director Angie Woods, who said the county is facing a 7% increase in medical premiums. Supervisors Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, said he would like to see the county budget absorb the entire increase if possible.

Pinal County Animal Care & Control Director Audra Michael and several volunteers were also present, and Smith told them he will ask that the new budget include their request for a veterinarian and full-time assistant. Smith further noted the department works in an old facility, and the county needs to modernize it or explore other locations.

Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, said the county needs to “test the marketplace” for a better medical insurance price. “I think our employees would appreciate that from us.” He also said there’s a huge need for more sheriff’s officers, particularly in his area. Goodman further said he’d like to know the effect of Johnson Utilities’ problems on the county.

Pinal County Manager Louis Andersen replied that after this year, the county will be reviewing its options for health care for the best price. County staff are working with the sheriff on his budget request, and the county can also make a report assessing the effects of Johnson Utilities, Andersen said.

The board also wants to continue to lower the tax rate. Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, asked how much it costs the county for every cent it lowers its primary property tax rate. Woods replied a little more than $1 million.

The board is scheduled to begin hearing budget requests from county departments in May.

Manager’s report

Andersen reported the county’s emergency operations center was activated March 6, in coordination with the Pinal County Health Department, to monitor coronavirus cases and remain in continuous contact with the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“I just want to thank the employees for their efforts,” along with Assistant County Manager Leo Lew, who worked all weekend on the issue, Andersen said.

He further reported that March 19 is the deadline for the Goldwater Institute to appeal the appellate court ruling in favor of the Pinal County Regional Transportation Authority to the Arizona Supreme Court. “Our indication is they will.”

The county meanwhile is ready to begin working with the city of Casa Grande on its projects, as well as smaller communities that are due to receive $300,000 per year for road work. The RTA has $35 million held in escrow while its half-cent sales tax is challenged. “Once we win, hopefully, we’ll be able to hit the ground running,” Andersen said.

Andersen also welcomed new Deputy Clerk of the Board Kelsey Pickard.

Also on March 11, the board appointed or reappointed several members to the county’s Open Space and Trails Advisory Commission: Nina Ruiz, Josh Bowman, Ernie Feliz, Mary Johnson and Charles Goff.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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