County approves nearly $1.2 billion budget that includes significant tax hike

2014-05-21T00:00:00Z County approves nearly $1.2 billion budget that includes significant tax hikeBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved next year’s tentative $1.18 billion budget Tuesday, funded in part by a 62-cent increase in the primary property tax rate.

For the owner of a $146,000 home — the average for Pima County — the tax increase of 62 cents per $100 assessed value will cost just over $90 a year.

Before the budget is finalized next month, county employees are hoping to win board support for bigger pay raises than the ones just approved, which vary depending on department and how much each employee already makes.

The board approved the budget 3-2, with Republican Supervisors Ally Miller and Ray Carroll both voting against the budget.

Carroll also asked for a breakdown of expenses related to transferring the operation of the river parks from the Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department to the flood control district.

Secondary property taxes, used to fund flood control, libraries and the stadium district and to repay bonds, will not increase. Although taxes for libraries, flood control and the stadium district are going up, that increase will be offset by a reduction in payments on the county’s bond debt.

Miller and Carroll both voted against the debt service decrease and the stadium district increase. Miller also opposed increases for libraries and the flood control district.

The proposed budget calls for a nearly a 62-cent increase in the primary property tax rate, which would help provide a bigger budget for the Sheriff’s Department and indigent defense services, which provides attorneys for those who can’t afford one, as well as other departments.

In addition to extra money for the Sheriff’s Department and indigent defense services, beneficiaries of the hikes include the new public service center downtown, road repair and other items.

The county previously relied on its year-ending fund balance to cover the loss of property tax revenues and pay for cost overruns for indigent defense and the Sheriff’s Department.

But it was time for a tax increase after the fund balance dwindled from $78 million in 2011-12 to $35.2 million this year, said County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

There wasn’t much debate over the general budget at Tuesday’s public hearing. But a steady stream of court employees, including judges, probation department officials and employee group representatives, pleaded with the board for bigger raises.

The tentative budget calls for a 36.05-cent-per-hour raise for employees who make less than $37,500 and a 2 percent increase for those who make more.

Court and probation officials asked for bigger raises, saying their employees’ pay was considerably lower than those who work in similar positions in other counties.

In addition, the salaries for those employees have not kept up with inflation, officials said.

Representatives of employee groups sent letters to Huckelberry and the Board of Supervisors before the meeting to ask for different levels of raises.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department asked for a step increase, which would be equivalent to a 5 percent raise.

The Pima County Probation Officers Association wants the salaries for its officers to match the salaries in other counties, which would amount to a 4 percent increase.

In addition, the Service Employees International Union is asking for a flat dollar amount increase for its workers. Maya Castillo, president of the union, asked for a $1-per-hour raise at Tuesday’s meeting.

The board directed the county staff to research pay discrepancies for court workers and probation officers.

Supervisors Richard Elias, Ramón Valadez and Miller also expressed support for a 50-cent-per-hour raise for all employees, which some say would help the lowest-paid county workers.

The board will adopt the final budget on June 17.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter @JamarYounger

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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