SONOITA — At the first public meeting of a committee formed to study moving part of eastern Santa Cruz County into Cochise County, state lawmakers heard a number of complaints from Sonoita-Elgin-area residents about the Santa Cruz County government.
Even so, of the 10 people who spoke up at Tuesday’s meeting, only two said they definitely support a move to Cochise.
“I’m still not sure what I think about the issue, and that’s part of the reason I’m here,” said Sandra Ruppel. “What is apparent is there are a lot of emotions. Especially after the (Justice of the Peace Court) was canceled here, I feel like we’re not represented by our county or our county representatives. That we pay all our money and it goes over there and we don’t see the services.”
The meeting, held at the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District station, marked a public step forward for a movement that has been percolating in the eastern part of Santa Cruz County for several years.
It’s fueled in part by frustration with what area residents describe as a lack of representation in the county government, which picked up after county supervisors voted last March to eliminate Sonoita’s Justice of the Peace Court.
In response, local residents brainstormed ways to address their concerns, with some discussing the possibility of having Cochise County annex land in the Sonoita-Elgin area.
At Tuesday’s meeting, area resident Gary Gilbert was one of two speakers who said they wanted to move to Cochise.
“My taxes continue to go up and I’m getting nothing for it,” he said. “My opinion is, I’m willing to roll the dice; I want to go to Cochise County.”
State Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, stoked the annexation flames earlier this year when she introduced a bill in the state House of Representatives that would have formed a committee to study the consequences of a potential move.
After the bill failed in the Senate, Griffin formed a special legislative committee called the Joint Ad-Hoc Committee on County Boundaries, saying that she was acting on behalf of concerned residents.
At the time, Sen. Andrea Dalessando, a Democrat from Sahuarita who represents Santa Cruz County, told Capitol Media Services, “I suspect that it is just a small group of vocal people that want this annexation,” and criticized Republican lawmakers for approving the committee’s formation.
Large or not, the local movement has held meetings and coalesced around complaints about taxes, lack of representation in county government and ambiguous assertions about cultural differences between Santa Cruz and Cochise counties.
But not everyone is jumping on the secession bandwagon.
“I’ve gone to the meetings that the grass-roots group has put together down at the fairgrounds, and I’ve got to say, ‘Thank you, I’ve learned a lot,’” Francis Garcia said during Tuesday’s meeting. “There was a lot of good information. And, actually, from that information I made the decision that I am against seceding and joining Cochise County.”
The special committee includes six lawmakers: Griffin and Dalessandro; Sens. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, and David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista; and Reps. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, and Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Sahuarita.
It also included Sonoita-Elgin-area residents Todd Bostock, Kent Callaghan, David Green and Matt Parrilli; former Cochise County supervisor Richard Searle; Jennifer Stielow, vice president of the Arizona Tax Research Association; and Craig Sullivan, executive director of the County Supervisors Association of Arizona.
The committee will form several working groups to study different issues related to moving the county line and is tasked with reporting on its findings by the end of 2020.
Griffin, who chairs the committee with Allen, said Tuesday that another meeting would be held before the end of 2019.