Pima County wants to increase the sheriff’s department’s budget. But County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says it will have to raise taxes to do so.

Huckelberry is recommending an $8 million increase to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which would require an increase of about 11 cents in the primary property tax rate, according to a memo he released last week.

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, according to the memo.

County and sheriff’s department officials say the tax increase is necessary in order to maintain an adequate level of service for county residents.

The only alternative would be deep cuts to the patrol division, support operations and criminal investigations, as well as the reduction and elimination of other services, officials said.

Those cuts would include the reduction of 70 deputy positions, the closure of the Tucson Mountain District, and the elimination of the DUI, K-9 and Air units.

Other reductions would include the elimination of drug enforcement efforts and air support for deputies, and the reduction of the SWAT team and other units.

The sheriff’s department operates the county jail, which accounts for about 34 percent of its budget.

But cuts to jail staff and services would adversely affect overcrowding and safety while possibly leading to a federal court order, Huckelberry said in the memo.

As a result, there were no cuts designated for the jail.

The department’s adopted budget has not significantly increased in five years because of the recession, which has led to annual cost overruns that the county had to deal with as they arose by taking money from elsewhere.

If the county doesn’t allocate the appropriate amount of money to the department, it could create long-term financial problems, Supervisor Sharon Bronson said.

“At this point, we’d be remiss if we didn’t add to the sheriff’s budget. We will create a structural deficit,” Bronson said.

The budget for the sheriff’s department this fiscal year was $135,355,031, a figure that hasn’t changed much in the last five years, Huckelberry said.

Next fiscal year’s budget is expected to be released within the next couple of weeks.

Sheriff’s officials say the lack of a budget increase for so long, along with increased costs, left the department underfunded.

“We have stretched our budget as far as we can and still try to maintain that same level of service,” Chief Deputy Chris Nanos said. “I don’t think this is an $8 million increase.

“I think it’s maintaining expenditure level we’ve maintained for the last three or four years.”

Sheriff’s officials have taken certain measures to keep deputies on the street, Nanos said, such as:

  • Assigning civilians to do administrative work.
  • Relying on sheriff’s volunteers to conduct traffic control, respond to non-emergency calls and perform other tasks.

The department has 508 deputies, which is about 1.4 deputies per 1,000 residents, according to department documents.

The national average is 2.7 per 1,000 residents, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

The department has had to cut some services and community policing efforts, such as providing resource officers to area schools.

Nanos said the department has still been able maintain its response times for 911 calls.

“We believe it’s important that when you call us, we respond,” he said.

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