For years there have been numerous debates and proposals regarding the feasibility of splitting portions of Navajo, Apache and Coconino counties and forming a new county from that portion of the Navajo Nation within the state of Arizona. Equally for years, those debates and proposals have remained just talk, never really getting very far.
Those supporting a county split have maintained that it would never happen unless the Navajo Nation supported it, and even lent its weight to such a proposal.
A bill that passed the legislature this past session in regard to a county split seems to be making more headway than any past proposal.
Senate Bill 1485 establishes a County Boundary Study Committee to examine the various issues involved in a county split, such as the fiscal impact, projected revenues and the final boundaries.
The bill was sponsored by Senator Jack C. Jackson (D) of Kayenta and Senator Jack Brown (D) of St. Johns. It was co-sponsored in the House of Representatives by Debra Brimhall (R) of Pinedale and Sylvia Laughter (D) of Kayenta.
The county boundary study committee consists of four members of Senate, four members of the House, four representatives of the Navajo Nation, and two representatives each from Apache, Coconino and Navajo counties. The committee cannot sit on its hands, as it must submit a report of its findings to the legislature no later than Dec. 31.
Sen. Brown said he supported the bill because he thinks it is a good idea. "Historically, there has been a lot of squabbling over what we were going to do. This seemed to be a good time to study a county split," he said.
The senator said splitting the counties would solve a lot of problems, including financial ones. "However, nothing will be done unless the Navajo Nation feels it is a good thing to do. Hopefully, they will make recommendations to the committee and then it can start to meet," Sen. Brown said.
Rep. Brimhall said she feels splitting the counties is an important issue. "I worked on this issue years ago when I was a lobbyist and Bruce Babbitt was governor. He vetoed the idea. But, this is something that has to be done."
Ideally, Rep. Brimhall said she would like to see the entire Navajo Nation as its own state. "That is real sovereignty," she said. "The way things are set up now, we have made the Navajo people beggars in three counties and four states."
Rep. Brimhall agrees any county split involving the Navajo Nation will not happen without the support of the nation. "That is why it is so awesome that Senator Jackson sponsored this legislation. Every time he came to see me and needed help with issues such as Highway User Revenue Funds or community college funding, I told him the Navajo Nation needed its own county. I had to say that the nation did not qualify for funding because it is not a recognized county," she said.
If the Navajo Nation was a separate county, Rep. Brimhall said, it would qualify for direct payment of HURF dollars and community college funding, to name just two of the financial benefits.
The representative said the county boundary committee has held its first meeting and drafted preliminary guidelines. She said those guidelines have been forwarded to the Navajo Nation for its consideration.
Rep. Brimhall said if the Navajo Nation were to become its own county, Apache and Navajo counties would remain separate. "Historically, there is a real division between the two counties," she said.
The splitting of the counties must be done one step at a time, but Rep. Brimhall said the formation of the study committee is a big step.