Pima County's $1.1B budget plan calls for property tax increase

2014-05-02T00:00:00Z 2014-07-13T15:50:08Z Pima County's $1.1B budget plan calls for property tax increaseBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Pima County’s recommended budget calls for a property tax increase to make up for a loss in revenue and to expand the allocation for some departments that have overspent in the last few years.

The proposed $1.17 billion budget for the next fiscal year calls for a nearly 28-cent increase in the primary property tax rate. The extra money would help provide a bigger budget for the Sheriff’s Department and indigent defense services, which provides attorneys for those who can’t afford a lawyer, as well as other departments.

There are also proposed secondary tax increases for the county’s library and flood control districts, although those increases are expected to be offset by a reduction in the debt service for the county’s bond debt.

In addition, there is a series of decision packages, which have separate tax-increase proposals for the Sheriff’s Department, indigent defense services, the new public service center, road repair and other items that would add another 33 cents to the proposed property tax rate.

The primary property tax rate would rise from $3.66 per $100 of assessed value to $3.94, according to county documents. With the county’s average assessed home value at more than $146,000, the proposed rate increases for primary, flood control, library and debt service would add about $47 to a homeowner’s tax bill.

The county expects the tax increases to raise $20 million to $25 million, depending on whether the Board of Supervisors approves all the proposed changes.

The proposed budget calls for a cost-of-living raise for county employees that would increase wages by 36.05 cents for hourly workers who make less than $37,500 per year. All other employees would get a 2 percent increase.

Next year’s proposed budget is about $93 million less than the existing one, mostly because of reduced costs in the wastewater department, privatizing solid-waste management services, reductions in capital projects and the decrease in bond debt.

The county has used its year-ending fund balance to cover the loss of property tax revenues for the last couple of years and to pay for cost overruns for indigent defense and the Sheriff’s Department. County officials say those departments and services are in desperate need of a budget increase.

The fund balance has dwindled in the last two years from $78 million in 2011-12 to $32.5 million this year, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said.

“We’ve built the fund balance. That gave us the cushion to survive the body blows of decreased values and overspending,” he said.

County departments that rely on the general-fund budget have experienced an 11.5 percent reduction in funding since 2009, according to budget documents. The county also has cut 1,400 positions in that time.

Huckelberry is proposing an $8 million budget increase for the Sheriff’s Department.

The Sheriff’s Department was nearly $6 million over budget last fiscal year and is projected to go over budget again by $1 million for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

If the department doesn’t get more money, it would have to reduce or eliminate positions, units and services, officials said.

Huckelberry is recommending a $2 million increase for indigent defense services. Costs have increased throughout the years, mostly due to more felony and dependency case filings, and an increased use of contract lawyers.

Last fiscal year, indigent defense services, which include the public defender, legal defender and Office of Children’s Counsel, cost the county an additional $1.8 million more than what was budgeted.

The county will hold a budget hearing on May 20.

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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