Proposed county charges could harm cities

Navajo County, like many counties in the state, is facing some financial difficulties due to the loss of some funding from the state of Arizona. Unfortunately, one of the ways the county is considering paying for its loss of funds is to stop paying for services it is legally required to perform and charging the cities in the county for performing those duties. This, in effect, is double taxation as citizens of the cities are already paying county taxes to cover those functions and will, if this practice continues, be paying for it again as residents of the city.

The Navajo County Attorney's Office has prosecuted all cases filed in the Justice Court for at least 35 years. Pursuant to Arizona State Statutes, all cases filed in the Justice Court shall be prosecuted by the Navajo County Attorney. Nevertheless, the Navajo County Attorney has requested that the city pay a $94,000 annual fee to prosecute JP Court cases. This fee is not charged to other county residents for prosecution of cases which arise outside city limits.

The county has taken similar action regarding housing prisoners. Pursuant to state law, the sheriff in each county is required to provide housing for all county prisoners. The statutes specifically say that if a case is filed in the Justice Court and is tried in Justice Court or is transferred to the Superior Court, that the prisoner that was charged in Justice Court is a county prisoner and must be housed and cared for in a county jail at county expense.

Contrary to the relevant statutes, the county has requested that the cities pay to house prisoners for all cases which are filed in JP Court which arose within the city limits, an expense that is estimated to exceed $120,000 per year.

Winslow city officials have met with county officials on numerous occasions, and have also met with other city managers and city attorneys without success.

The basic concern of staff is that the county's action places a burden on residents of the city to pay an additional fee for housing of prisoners, and for prosecution of cases filed in the JP Court over and above what they are already paying as county residents to the county for the same services.

Additional annual expenses of $214,000 annually ($120,000 plus $94,000) could be the added cost to the city of Winslow for services that the county is mandated by state law to provide for all citizens of the county. Similar additions to the costs for other cities are likely to be similar.

The Winslow City Council was to consider a resolution proposing a solution to part of this problem during its strategic planning session. The creation of a county wide jail district would allow property taxes in the county to equally pay for the services of prosecuting crimes by the county attorney and housing inmates in the county jail. This would eliminate the need and possibility of asking cities to pay for functions that are the responsibility of the county and for those who live in cities to pay for these functions twice.

The resolution and reasons for urging support of it are as follows. The effect of the resolution would be a county wide election to create a jail district. Approximately half of the counties in Arizona already have such a county wide jail district and more are expected to consider this solution as the funding problem is certainly not unique to Navajo County.

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