Apr 292011

By Linda Kor —

The Navajo County Board of Supervisors approved an intergovernmental agreement Tuesday for court and criminal justice services that had been previously met with criticism by some cities and towns in the county. The item was originally presented during the March 22 meeting of the board, but was tabled due to protests lodged by representatives of Winslow, Snowflake and Taylor.

A special meeting was held March 30 in Show Low to address the concerns.

“All the cities were well represented at this meeting. We received a legal opinion from the law firm of Lewis and Roca, who determined that our decision was legal,” stated Assistant County Manager Dusty Parsons.

The county currently operates the justice courts for Holbrook, Pinetop-Lakeside, Show Low, Snowflake-Taylor and Winslow. The services performed by the county include court collections, and through the county attorney, public defender and legal defender, criminal prosecution and defense services in criminal misdemeanor cases filed by the municipality’s police officers in the justice court at no cost.

Under the proposal, each city or town would now pay for those services based on the number of misdemeanor cases filed. According to documents provided to the Board of Supervisors, Navajo County is subsidizing more than $200,000 in city and town court costs each year. Estimates of the annual cost to each city are $51,879 for Holbrook, $93,855 for Winslow, $13,479 for Snowflake, $27,932 for Show Low, $11,140 for Pinetop-Lakeside and $7,101 for Pinetop-Lakeside Justice Court in Show Low.

The county incurs the costs by providing collection services, as well as county attorney, public defender and legal defender services. Fees charged to each city would be based on a calculation of court staff, operation and collection costs, as well as attorney costs, which would then be divided based on the percentage of cases handled for a municipality in each court. For example, if nine percent of the cases in Holbrook Justice Court were filed by the Holbrook Police Department, the City of Holbrook would bear nine percent of the cost of operating that justice court.

Parsons stated that many of the cities’ administrators were misinformed in thinking that a special jail tax district would be a more viable solution, but it was his belief that this solution would have a lesser impact on communities at this time.

“I can’t say that they are tickled to death to participate, but I think they now see the need. This will save the cities from having to fund their own magistrate courts,” stated Parsons.

Board Chairman David Tenney acknowledged that emotions did run high at the last meeting.

“I think that by the end of the meeting they did understand the county’s position, which is why we don’t see them here in opposition today,” said Tenney.

“If the other cities choose not to sign this MOU (memorandum of understanding), then they can do their own thing. Some of my municipalities say they still may not sign,” said District I Supervisor J.R. DeSpain, who noted that Holbrook officials have already signed the agreement.

In other business, County Manager Jimmy Jayne received approval from the board to implement a Volunteer Cost Savings Policy. According to Jayne, the program is something that has been under consideration for several months.

“This policy will allow employees to volunteer for a shorter work week for a specific length of time on a temporary schedule. We are facing a $225,000 shortfall in the current budget and this is one way we are hoping to reduce costs,” explained Jayne. It was also noted that any such requests by employees would require approval of department heads, as well as the board. Employees who receive a reduced work week would still retain benefits as long as they work the minimum hours required to qualify for the benefits.

In an update regarding the containment of the Catalyst Snowflake Paper Mill fire, Snowflake Fire Chief Pat Hancock reported that the combined efforts between the Catalyst emergency response team, law enforcement, county officials and five fire departments contained the blaze in two days.

“The objective was to get the mill up and running as soon as possible, and with our combined effort, we were able to do so in two days,” said Hancock.

The blaze resulted in nearly three-fourths of the storage yard’s paper destroyed, or 11,000 to 14,000 tons of charred and unusable paper. It was estimated by Catalyst that it would take an estimated 5,000 trips to the landfill to remove the unusable paper.

The mill employs more than 300 workers, and the emergency response personnel involved were commended for their efforts that enabled those employees to return to work quickly.

In other action April 26, the board:

* Approved a proclamation declaring May 1-7 as Elks National Youth Week.

* Approved an amendment to a contract between the Navajo County Health District and the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) for the Arizona Nutrition Network Program for a $93,058 reduction in the current fiscal year for nutrition services, including classroom presentations for kindergarteners through eighth graders.

* Approved an amendment to a contract between the health district and the ADHS for a reduction of $40,585 for the current fiscal year for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) services.

* Approved the renewal of the Injury Prevention Program.

* Authorized an agreement between the Navajo County Sheriffs Office and the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, in order to receive a $1,000 cannabis eradication grant.

* Authorized a memorandum of understanding between the Navajo County Library District Board of Directors, the Kayenta Township and the Navajo Nation for continued services in improving the Kayenta Community Library.

* Approved the adoption of the cost allocation schedule. Noted in the schedule was a slight overall increase in costs to fire districts and improvement districts, as well as an addition of a $174,054 cost allocation to Northland Pioneer College that had previously not been included.

* Approved a resolution accepting easements from the U.S. Forest Service for specific forest roads now that the Aripine County Road Improvement District has been dissolved.