Supervisors: Maricopa County budget means lower tax rate - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Supervisors: Maricopa County budget means lower tax rate

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Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 6:19 am | Updated: 7:21 pm, Fri May 24, 2013.

A unanimous Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has endorsed a $2.2 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, some $82.4 million lower than the county currently spends. The budget approved today is likely to produce a modest property tax decrease for Valley homeowners but also a merit-based salary increase for county employees, who have gone without permanent increases for five years.

Board chairman Andy Kunasek was especially pleased with the outcome. “What we’ve done is balance the desire to lower property taxes with the increasing needs of the organization, especially criminal justice and law enforcement,” Kunasek said. “This is a good budget, a conservative budget.”

The pay increases will address particular salary concerns among law enforcement and justice professionals, where county employees have been leaving for other public and private agencies.

Today’s tentative adoption marks the end of a period of intense work among the supervisors, County Manager Tom Manos and top budget officials, all trying to devise an operating budget that lowered property taxes, funded a pay increase but remained “structurally balanced,” spending no more than ongoing revenues. Manos said, “This budget is good for our taxpayers, those who depend on county services, and for our valued employees.”

To accomplish this, Deputy County Manager and Budget Director Sandi Wilson said, “Budget staff had to trim spending, eliminate operating contingencies, increase turnover savings and implement various cuts throughout the county.”

Public safety remains the county’s largest expenditure.

“The Sheriff's Office continues to cooperate with the County on budget allocations and other fiscal matters, including in the current discussions,” said Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “Our concern at this time is the salary increases for our dedicated frontline deputies, detention officers and civilian employees.”

Officials suggest the county is in “a transition year,” with sales tax revenues rising modestly with greater economic activity but property tax revenues, based on two-year-old (2010) calculations, are still declining. County officials project budgets and taxes based on two-year-old valuation figures. For the 2014 fiscal year, officials estimate an overall tax rate of $1.46 per $100 of assessed valuation, slightly less than last year’s, resulting in the $32.8 million reduction in homeowner and business property taxes for county operations.

On a median-valued house, assessed at $102,000, the property tax bill would be $149.31. That is $13.63 lower than in last year’s budget, when the median home was assessed at $111,000. Over the past four years, Maricopa County has reduced property taxes by $124 million.

County-controlled taxes make up only 12 percent of a total property tax bill. Most of the property tax revenues fund public schools, many cities, community colleges, the Maricopa Integrated Health System and special districts, which are not controlled by the county government.

The supervisors, three of whom are new to county government, were generally satisfied.

Mesa resident and District 2 Supervisor Steve Chucri said: “We don’t write our budgets in red ink or wearing rose-colored glasses. We stick to our core principles, loyal to the taxpayers, who also depend on good public services, effective law enforcement, smart justice, excellent roads and efficient service.”

“Maricopa County Government is a very large, customer service organization,” District 4 Supervisor Clint Hickman, said. “The time is right to invest taxpayer dollars in our most important asset, and that is in the people that do the jobs day in and day out. The people that protect us, that people that bestow justice, the people that help our businesses and communities.”

"A lot of hard work went into getting us where we are today,” commented Supervisor Denny Barney of Gilbert. “We’ve had many competing demands and I am pleased that this budget both lowers property taxes and addresses critical needs, particularly those in our criminal justice system.”

Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, the lone Democrat on the board, strongly supported the salary increases for some 13,000 county employees. “It is a false savings to pay people less than they are worth. We are losing our best people. That will stop today,” Wilcox said. “We are still in structural balance and that is important. We have been a well run county.”

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