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FLORENCE — The Pinal County Board of Supervisors met Friday morning and ordered litigation seeking federal funds from the governor that are needed to combat the COVID-19 global health emergency.

At the end of a non-stop three-hour meeting, Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer suggested the county should sue the federal treasury to get funds that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is denying to the smaller counties of the state.

Following an executive session, the supervisors voted unanimously to sue the federal government and force the governor to give Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money equally.

Ducey has sole discretion to disburse funds, though, Volkmer said the county has constitutional rights to sue the federal treasury on the basis of an “equal protection requirement.” If the county won the suit, that could force the governor to disburse money in a more equal manner and not just to heavily populated areas.

So far, Ducey has allocated the CARES funds only to communities of 500,000 or more in population. This computes to funds only going to Maricopa County, Pima County, Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa.

About $2.8 billion was allotted to Arizona in the CARES program.

Volkmer said the act was intended to help communities, businesses and governments including those with populations under 500,000 to fill the gaps left by a “one size fits all federal program.”

Volkmer said the CARES act specifically was meant to assist communities under 500,000 in population.

The county attorney said if Pinal County were to receive an equal share of funds, it would be in excess of $78 million based on $170 per person and a population of 472,789. Using the same rates, the rest of the counties in the state would receive more than $218 million and Ducey would still have more than $1.5 billion to distribute from the CARES coffer.

If Ducey does not distribute the funds by a certain time, the federal government will also recall the money.

Volkmer said this lot of federal funding is really needed because it can be used to help people pay rent, utilities and even Wi-Fi so children can connect to schools and teachers. The funds can also help businesses pay their bills and keep their employees working.

It can be used for food delivery systems to assist food banks.

Volkmer said the Governor’s Office has even refused to take a phone call about the CARES money with a Pinal County leadership team.

“We have to show the half-million population threshold is arbitrary and it does not relate to a legitimate governmental interest,” Volkmer said.

When asked when a potential lawsuit against the federal government might come to a resolution, Volkmer said, “If we were done by the end of this calendar year, I’d be surprised.”

Volkmer said filing a lawsuit would give the county some pressure for the governor to negotiate with Pinal County.

“Every Arizonan counts, and they have a right to be treated fairly. The governor is making the choice to exclude 25 percent of the population. If he’s going to be a bully, you have to stand up and punch a bully in the face,” Volkmer told the supervisors.

The lawsuit will be filed directly against the federal government and not Ducey. Meanwhile Volkmer said talks could continue with the governor to release the funds.

Pinal County Emergency Manager Charles Kmet opened the special public meeting Friday by telling supervisors that since March 9 the county has already expended more than $7.9 million to combat the virus emergency.

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb also told the supervisors of the trials and tribulations experienced by the COVID-19 virus at the meeting.

Members of the Pinal County community testified before the supervisors during their special session including city mayors, managers and administrators along with business owners and food bank organizers.

People spoke about their struggles and losses suffered because of the health emergency. Business owners told supervisors they struggle to survive and hope they can outlast the emergency, including a San Tan Valley business owner, a gym owner, a Gold Canyon restaurateur, community organizations and the director of a chamber of commerce.

The supervisors listened to the speakers at the special meeting and offered them support in their efforts in obtaining the CARES funds from the state.

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Jim Headley is a reporter covering breaking news, crime and justice around Pinal County. He can be reached at jheadley@pinalcentral.com.

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