Game-changer: Graphic piece helps counties recover funds
By Mara Knaub | Posted: Saturday, June 7, 2014 5:00 pm
A piece brainstormed in Yuma became the “game changer” that helped Arizona counties recover part of the swept Highway User Revenue Funds.
In presenting a report of the last legislative session, Craig Sullivan, executive director of the Arizona County Supervisors Association, praised Yuma County for coming up with a graphics tool that impacted state lawmakers.
The CSA had been trying to get the message out to legislators that roads across the state are degrading at an alarming rate.
Road building and maintenance, which are the responsibilities of the counties, have suffered greatly since the state started “sweeping” HURF, which relies on a fuel tax and is meant for the upkeep of roads. Since 2008-09, the State Legislature has diverted more than $634 million of HURF to fund state agencies, costing the counties over $115 million.
In the current fiscal year, the state shifted $120 million from road activities to the state’s general fund, impacting Yuma County transportation programs by nearly $21 million, according to the supervisors.
“The reduced allocations from HURF to counties has resulted in counties suspending new construction, substantially decreasing road maintenance activities and increasing designation of ‘primitive’ roads,” read a resolution passed by supervisors in November.
The restoration of HURF and the elimination of other costs shifts top CSA’s agenda, Sullivan said. The association had been writing letters and conducting a media campaign.
But then Sullivan saw the graphics tool created by the Yuma County Communications Team.
“Kevin Tunell (communications director) brought a Yuma-specific piece to us and it was a game-changer. Rather than go with what we had been producing, we replicated what Tunell had been doing,” Sullivan explained.
“We’re not plagiarizing, but learning from one another,” he joked.
The tool is a parody cover of the Arizona Highways magazine. The “in this issue” headlines scream: “No HURF help – Rough Roads for Rural Counties” and “Yuma County needs $7.6M restored just to maintain ‘03 funding levels.”
The background photograph shows a road with cracked pavement badly in need of repair.
“We received a lot of great feedback from the mailing, and part of the funds was restored. The product we produced helped call attention to the problem,” Tunell noted.
The result is an incremental restoration of HURF, with $10 million of swept funds restored to the counties in the upcoming fiscal year. Yuma County will receive a little over $400,000.
“It’s a move in the right direction,” Sullivan said.
How did the “game-changing” piece come about? Last fall, County Administrator Robert Pickels met with the Communications Team about the HURF shift. His concern centered on the fact that legislators are constantly bombarded with people wanting them to shift funds, restore funds, create funds, etc.
“HURF was a grave concern for counties this year and would have had a very significant impact on how we conduct business to the public,” Tunell explained.
“So we brainstormed around his table that day and started the process of figuring out a way to present some complicated HURF information, in an easy to read/use/understand product.”
They decided a parody of the Arizona Highways magazine was a “perfect way to send a ‘distress signal’ to all legislators.” They felt strongly that nobody had done this before and the resulting piece would become the subject of “water cooler” talk at the State Legislature.
Pickels and the Communications Team worked for about two months fine-tuning the product. It was printed in a higher quality paper, front and back, to mimic a real magazine.
Then, while at CSA, Pickels showed Sullivan the piece. The result was that CSA wanted to “adopt” the product so that all Arizona counties could use it.
The parody cover was mailed to every representative and senator so that it would appear on their desks on opening day of the Arizona Legislature.
“Collectively we made a compelling case,’ Sullivan said.
Other CSA activities
Arizona County Supervisors Association spent a lot of time in “reactive” mode, dealing with the 1,200 bills that were introduced into the State Legislature this year, noted Craig Sullivan, executive director.
A bill must overcome 30 “hurdles” to become law, including six places where they can be amended and eight occasions where votes occur.
There is a lot of room for “shenanigans, a lot of ways to jump the line, do things late in the game,” which requires close monitoring, Sullivan said.
The association reviews bills through the lens of the supervisor, especially on the costs proposed bills would have on counties.
“County government is so connected with state law that our team has to respond to calls regularly about policy issues that are relevant to you,” Sullivan said.
“Fully a third of bills that made it to the governor’s desk had a county nexus. That shows how much stake county’s have in what’s happening in the state legislation.”
At the federal level, the endangered Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) top the agenda. Yuma County received $3.2 million this fiscal year, with the last payment in June. No payments have been authorized for next fiscal year.
“It’s an ongoing fight,” Sullivan said.
Other issues include “Waters of the U.S.,” a proposed rule that would expand the definition of jurisdictional waters, and the State Criminal Alien Assistance program, which would reimburse counties for costs of housing illegal immigrants in county jails.
The reimbursement has been “woefully underfunded for many, many years,” Sullivan said.
Yuma County’s reimbursement of $74,000 in FY 2013 “probably didn’t pick up the coffee bill in your facility. It’s outrageous,” he added.