The Sitgreaves County Project is a non-partisan movement that seeks to establish Arizona’s 16th County in the southern portions of Navajo and Apache Counties, in the White Mountains and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest regions, to be called Sitgreaves County.
Our reasons for pursuing this goal are numerous. The current county boundaries were decided in the 1890’s, long before Arizona was a state, to facilitate the development of the Sante Fe Railroad and give the towns along its route and the Little Colorado River representation in the Arizona Territory. In the 130 years since then, different towns and communities have sprung up throughout the region in vastly different geographic regions, with vastly different populations.
Yet, because of these 130-year old county boundaries, these separate regions are strained to provide approx. 200,000 citizens across approx. 20,000 square miles with adequate services. This inefficiency has strongly reduced these governments’ ability to work together to bring industry to the region, as the northern and southern regions in each county have two entirely different sets of needs.
My view is that it would be best for us in the southern regions to form a county of our own that represented the best interests of the White Mountains. From Springerville to Heber, from Snowflake to Whiteriver and everywhere in between, the Sitgreaves County region is geographically, culturally, demographically, and ecologically distinct from the Northern Plateau, and it is in our best interests to govern ourselves free of its influence.
My idea for the county’s design is simple. There are two parts two it which make it unique from every other new Arizona county that has ever been proposed by an individual or group in the past 40 years:
#1. Sitgreaves County’s borders are based on present-day public school district boundaries. Because schools are the primary beneficiary of county funds, it makes sense to form the new county around school districts based in the White Mountains. The Sitgreaves County school districts are: Heber-Overgaard, Snowflake-Taylor, Show Low, Blue Ridge (Pinetop-Lakeside), Round Valley (Springerville-Eagar), Alpine, Concho, Vernon, McNary, and Whiteriver.
#2. Sitgreaves County meets the requirements for new counties according to Arizona law as mandated by Title 11. These include: minimum population requirement, minimum private property requirement, lawful county borders requirement, and a minimum assessed value. Also, importantly, my design does not displace any current county seat.
These two points are the core of my design of Sitgreaves County as proposed. It is the most comprehensive and possible design for county decentralization in Northeastern Arizona.
On March 20, 2019, I presented my research on county decentralization to the Arizona House of Representatives State & International Affairs Committee in the form of the Northeastern Arizona Development Act. The presentation was widely successful, and our movement has since gained over 1,000 supporters throughout the future Sitgreaves County region.
Because of our current politically-heated moment, the idea itself of Sitgreaves County has gotten caught up in the partisan spokes. While this is the reality of the situation, my research was not influenced by any political ideology other than the idea that the White Mountains needs a county for itself.
Some Democrats have argued that because the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni reservations exist in the counties Sitgreaves will be leaving, that the idea itself is racist and anti-Native American. However, the White Mountain Apache reservation will be in the new county and could benefit from a more limited, more localized government where their representation in the Board of Supervisors is increased from 20 to 33 percent. This is a fact that those calling Sitgreaves “racist” do not acknowledge. Another fact that should be noted is that I myself am 1/4 Pascua-Yaqui Native American.
Non-Natives living in the north, many of them Republican, have perpetuated this distorted racial perspective of Sitgreaves by claiming its formation will “abandon” non-Natives in Winslow, Joseph City, Holbrook, St. Johns, and other communities to the mercy of county districts on the Navajo Nation, whom they claim will impose impossible taxes on them to make up for what they lose when Sitgreaves is created. Our research indicates that the opposite will happen: state equitable funding in the region will increase overall by 40 percent, and Navajo and Apache County’s spending per citizen will nearly double.
I believe my plan will help the tribes in the region, not hurt them. The view that splitting the counties is racist is due to the fact that race was cited as a factor in some of the other attempts to change the county boundaries of Northeastern Arizona over the past 40 years. Race does not play into my design, which as I’ve said is designed according to school districts, geography, and Title 11 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. In my presentation to the committee, I showed in clear terms the various ways Sitgreaves County would benefit Arizona’s tribes and non-Natives alike.
However, because of the limited amount of data available to me and to the public, I am incapable of answering every question that’s arisen as a result of my research. Because of this, a legitimate study is needed.
Just last month, LD-7 Representative Walter Blackman introduced HB 2253, which calls for a bipartisan study committee to research Sitgreaves County as proposed in order to determine its fiscal and logistical feasibility. The Sitgreaves County Study Committee would have until June 2021 to finish their research and make it public.
Should my proposal prove feasible, the Sitgreaves County Project will then lobby the government to pass the Northeastern Arizona Development Act. Should the study show that Sitgreaves is not feasible, we still stand to learn a lot about how the Navajo and Apache County governments spend their money in one of the most impoverished regions in the United States.
Those who are opposed to this bill are worried that such a study committee might prove creating Sitgreaves to be smart policy, but causing the bill to fail will only fuel our movement. If our opponents truly want Sitgreaves to fail, then they would want to support this bill and hope it proves my research wrong.
Beyond this, the SCP is also a think tank which seeks to help pull Northeastern Arizona out of poverty through developing and promoting policies at the local, state, and federal levels that would benefit the region economically beyond creating the new county. This also includes our role in helping to defeat the overreaching anti-fracking legislation of last year’s session, and facilitating the development of Helium in the Helium-rich Holbrook Basin, thus helping to end the worldwide helium shortage, potentially generating over a trillion dollars in revenue to Arizona over the next decade.
We’ve also helped facilitate public meetings where respected geologists have dispelled fears in the Sitgreaves County region that helium drilling in the Holbrook Basin does not existentially threaten the Coconino Aquifer with fracking, rendering the unscientific propaganda campaigns by anti-development activists, such as the slumlord-financed POWAZ effectively pointless, forcing them to take their phony message elsewhere.
We encourage you to support our efforts to bring future prosperity to Northeastern Arizona through the passage of HB 2253. Please help us to establish this much-needed study committee, and let’s work together to create Arizona’s 16th County!
– Jesse Valencia