January 2014 Flagstaff Business News Column

Roads funding, Fireworks Regulation Sought from 2014 Legislative Session

By Cynthia Seelhammer
Coconino County Manager

On January 13, our Arizona State Legislature will begin their 2014 session at the Arizona State Capitol.
So begins the tough work of the Governor and Legislators negotiating a budget that decides funding for state and local government. Lawmakers will also begin their work on proposals that will impact local government and the public.

To ensure our county continues to have a voice at the Capitol, the County works closely with our legislators and maintains positive relationships to advocate for the diverse needs of our citizens.

Work on our County’s legislative agenda began immediately after the 2013 session ended last summer. The Coconino County Board of Supervisors, our separately elected officials and departments are continually meeting with residents and community leaders to craft priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

In November, we had the opportunity to share our funding concerns and legislative priorities with Senator Steve Pierce, House Speaker Andy Tobin, Representative Bob Thorpe and Representative Jamescita Peshlakai. All of our legislators were very receptive to the priorities discussed and we are confident that this will lead to a productive 2014 legislative session for Coconino County.

This upcoming session, we will again work to restore critical funding for Coconino County including funds for road maintenance projects. As you and I both know, a good transportation system is essential to the success of business, including manufacturing and tourism.

For several years, the Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF), which relies on gas tax revenue, motor carrier fees, vehicle license taxes and other fees for revenue, has been diverted from local governments to fund state agencies.

The County will work to ensure HURF funding, as well as the County Assistance Fund (CAF) – and other sweeps that have hurt counties over the past few years – is returned to local governments. CAF is derived from Arizona Lottery revenues and is used for County general fund purposes.

Since 2008, the state has swept millions intended for county functions, including criminal justice and county road and infrastructure maintenance.

In transportation funding alone, Coconino County has lost $4.1 million in HURF revenue since 2008. As funding has decreased, the County has been forced to reduce, postpone or eliminate several road maintenance projects, leaving 25 to 35 percent of county-maintained roadways in severe or poor condition.

Properly maintained roadway infrastructure is critical for economic vitality, public safety and quality of life, yet the County simply cannot continue to offer the current levels of service with existing funding.

While restoring HURF revenue will not cure the County’s long-term infrastructure funding deficit, it will allow us to invest resources into our deteriorating roadway system. We will also work with legislators and stakeholders to identify long-term solutions for funding transportation throughout the State.
Also during the upcoming legislative session, we will seek to amend an existing state law to provide counties with the authority to regulate the sale of fireworks.

Currently, the law allows counties to ban the use of fireworks during a reasonable risk of wildfire, but prohibits local governments from regulating the sale of permissible consumer fireworks. This discrepancy causes confusion with consumers who purchase fireworks in a county, but are not legally allowed to use them in that county during the dry, hot summer months.

Therefore, the County is working with other counties across the state to propose a change to state law that will grant the County authority to regulate the sale of permissible consumer fireworks when stage 1 fire restrictions are implemented by State and Federal agencies during periods of elevated wildfire danger.
Our County knows firsthand the full devastation of a catastrophic forest fire. Changing this statute provides a commonsense solution based on science and may prevent future devastation from forest and wildfires.

The County will also continue to oppose unfunded mandates passed onto counties during and since the 2008 recession, including increases to what counties must pay to house Sexually Violent Prisoners, or SVPs, at the Arizona State Hospital.

Finally, the County will also pursue an increase in what our most vulnerable residents receive from the Arizona Department of Economic Security. We are working with other Public Fiduciary Offices around the State to restore the amount wards receive from the state to pay for their basic needs.

We look forward to working with the Arizona State Legislature and the Governor’s Office during the 2014 legislative session to advocate on behalf of our citizens.

Cynthia Seelhammer serves as Coconino County Manager. This column was submitted and likely ran in the January edition of the Flagstaff Business News.