County budget tops $1.45B - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

County budget tops $1.45B

Proposed plan includes tax hike

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Posted: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:20 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

A proposed budget before the Pima County Board of Supervisors has received mixed reviews from those members who represent the Northwest.

The budget proposal, which County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry presented to supervisors earlier this month, totals $1.45 billion.

"What Chuck is proposing, even if Prop 100 passes, is to raise the combined tax rate eight cents," said Supervisor Ann Day, a Republican who represents District 1.

Proposition 100 is the May 18, statewide ballot question to increase sales taxes by 1 percent. Proceeds from the tax would fund public education, public safety and health and human services. The tax would expire after three years.

In budget documents, Huckelberry attributes the proposed 8.57-cent increase to losses in property values. Accordingly, primary property tax collections would fall by more than $7.7 million, or 1.6 percent.

The proposal holds steady on current primary property tax rates, while raising secondary rates.

"We need to do whatever we can to prevent shifting the burden to taxpayers," Day said, calling Huckelberry's proposal "smoke and mirrors."

District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson, a Democrat, said the budget proposal displays austerity.

"I think that this is a very conservative budget that will benefit Pima County taxpayers," Bronson said. "Most residents should see a reduction in property taxes."

The proposed budget also assumes the county's general fund would take in $22 million more than it expends. The excess money would be put into a property tax stabilization fund. That money would be reserved to avoid primary tax rate increases in the event property values continue to fall, thereby decreasing the amount of cash the tax generates.

"We've not been on a spending spree and won't go on one," Bronson said.

Day criticized the proposed budget for not seeking further spending reductions.

"Citizens are having to live with less money," Day said. "We're still taking in more money." She said county property tax collections had doubled over the over the past decade.

"We should be responding to economic conditions instead of propping up tax revenues," Day said.

Both supervisors agreed the county's financial situation would change dramatically if Prop 100 fails.

The Arizona Legislature agreed to put the sales tax question on the ballot to give voters the opportunity to decide on a slew of cuts in services the state provides.

The chief concern to counties is the loss of funding to the state department of corrections. If that happens, prisoners serving sentences of one year or less, or those who have less than a year remaining on their sentences, would be remitted to county custody. Because the counties don't have the authority to alter inmate sentences, the inmates would have to serve the remainder of their terms in county jails.

The potential cost to Pima County has been estimated between $35 million and $150 million.

"They're playing a shell game, they're shifting costs to us," Bronson said. "It's cowardly on the part of the state legislature."

Day also expressed concern about the possible added cost to the county, but said the solution lies in pulling the reigns on local spending.

"The answer is not tax increases," Day said.

The county administrator's budget proposal includes an alternate scenario in the event the sales tax question fails. That scenario includes an additional 7.37-cent increase to the primary property tax rate, raising some $6.5 million. The total increase to property taxes, under the alternate budget scenario, could be as much as 15.94 cents per $100 of valuation.

Yet-to-be determined spending cuts would be made to core services as well.

Another measure would be to use the $22 million slated for the property tax relief fund on costs related to the influx of prisoners from state facilities. The state would transfer an estimated 1,800 inmates to the county, nearly doubling the number of inmates in county custody.

The Board of Supervisors plans to hold a budget hearing on Tuesday, May 18. Supervisor meetings are held at the Pima County Administration Building, 130 W. Congress Street, at 9 a.m.

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