By Tammy Gray
Salary increases, jail expansion, forest travel regulations, volunteer benefits, past due tax collections and inmate education are priorities for the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office in 2014.
“Some of my longtime employees tell me they haven’t had a raise in eight years,” Sheriff KC Clark said. “One of my highest priorities this year is to get a salary increase for my employees.”
Clark noted that low wages in comparison to nearby agencies makes it difficult to attract and retain employees, and costs the county more in the long run when highly trained and experienced staff resign to take on higher paying positions at other places.
Chief Deputy Jim Molesa said, “Our attrition rate is high. We’re losing out to other counties, DOC (Department of Corrections) and other agencies. Our deputies see the disparity.”
According to Clark, he believes the county may finally be in a position to afford salary increases, if the state will return to the previous practice of dividing Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF) and lottery earnings among counties and cities. He also noted that the county recently received notice that it will receive $1.3 million in Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) from the federal government for 2013. County officials were previously concerned that they may not receive the funding.
“That could go a long way to maybe help get raises,” he said. “I can’t make any promises. I don’t want to guarantee raises. It’s not my decision, but it is my priority.”
Clark also plans on completing a $4.5 million jail expansion that includes a new kitchen, laundry facility and booking area, as well as a sloped passageway that will eliminate the need to use an old elevator to move food to inmates.
The kitchen facility is complete and in operation now, and a medical facility is expected to be operational within about two weeks. Some demolition work is still necessary to complete the new sally port and booking area. Clark explained that the expansion is designed to increase security, simplify operations and meet the growing needs of the county for the next 20 to 25 years.
Funding for the jail expansion came from the refinancing of previously issued jail expansion bonds. According to Clark, even with the expansion project and the longer bond term, which is for another 20 years, the county is saving money thanks to a greatly reduced interest rate.
As president of the Arizona Sheriff’s Association, Clark explained that he will be working to clarify and unify forest travel management plans in 2014. He noted that the new rules vary between forests and the maps outlining boundaries for the rules are difficult for the average citizen to understand, making enforcement difficult.
“The problem is, nothing’s the same. From one forest to another, (there are) different rules,” he said. “They instituted it in Coconino County and it’s been a disaster. They’ve not yet instituted it here.”
Molesa explained that each forest is run separately, meaning that although Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto national forests share common borders, each has its own rules. If a camper, hiker or hunter crosses from the Apache-Sitgreaves into Coconino, different rules apply. Molesa noted that it is difficult to inform citizens of what rules apply where, especially when most don’t even realize when they’ve crossed over from one national forest boundary to another.
“People can’t enjoy their public lands,” he said.
Clark added, “The maps the Forest Service gives out, the citizens can’t understand.”
Clark noted that his hope is to work closely with other sheriffs across the state and the Forest Service to unify rules across all forests. He explained that the group has already had some success in getting a rule reversed that allowed unoccupied travel trailers to be placed in the forest for only 72 hours.
“There’s already a law that says 14 days on the books, so we got that reversed,” he said.
Clark noted that one of his mandates as a sheriff is to collect unpaid taxes, and he plans to continue to focus on collections in 2014.
“It hadn’t been a priority, and now we’re putting a huge emphasis on that,” he said, explaining that it is a simple way to increase revenues for the county.
Most of the taxes collected by the sheriff’s office are property and business equipment taxes.
“I don’t like paying my taxes. No one does, but we all have to,” he said.
Molesa noted that the civil division has so far collected about $600,000 in previously unpaid taxes.
A new inmate education and training program is also in the works for 2014, but right now is still in the early planning stages. Clark explained that he is working closely with County Attorney Brad Carlyon to create a program similar to one currently in place in Coconino County.
“They call it the Exodus program and it’s had incredible results,” Clark said. “Their recidivism rate is way below the national average. We’re going to try to basically copy it.”
By Tammy Gray