Chuck Huckelberry: Pima County’s recommended budget begins to reinvest in critical programs and infrastructure

2014-05-06T00:00:00Z Chuck Huckelberry: Pima County’s recommended budget begins to reinvest in critical programs and infrastructureBy Chuck Huckelberry Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

If you ever had the misfortune of having a car stolen, you probably appreciated law enforcement responding to the call.

If you’re out to dinner with the family, you’re probably grateful that someone is making sure employees in the back are washing their hands and storing food at the proper temperatures.

If you’re a veteran having a hard time finding the right job after coming back from deployment, you probably would appreciate job training services designed specifically for our military heroes.

Government ensures we have clean air to breathe, parks to play in, libraries to get lost in and courts to mete out justice — and the way we pay for these hallmarks of civilization is through taxes.

I released a budget recommendation to the Pima County Board of Supervisors this week that would raise the tax rate. It will be up to the board whether to act on that recommendation; but in my professional opinion, it is time to once again start to invest in programs and infrastructure that build the quality of life we all enjoy here.

I know that nothing makes folks in some circles happier than being able to rail against spending, with the implication that Pima County is on a wild spending spree.

Don’t believe it.

In the past five years, as the nation slogged through recession, the value of the property that is taxed to provide services shrank more 16 percent — more than at any other time in our history.

Even though houses cost less, it’s not suddenly cheaper to respond to a convenience store robbery or to license dogs or to design safe intersections.

But we made a conscious choice to make responsible cuts. The budgets of our General Fund departments are more than 11 percent less than they were in 2009. Travel was all but eliminated. And we have 1,400 fewer employees than we did then.

We are collecting $40 million less in taxes from residents and businesses — or about 10 percent less — than we were then. The increases recommended restore about half of that amount, adding approximately $20 million back into the budget.

Keep in mind that we have little latitude in cutting deeper. Just paying for criminal justice takes up 52 percent of the General Fund. And think of it this way: More than 100 percent of the entire amount of primary property taxes we collect from both homeowners and businesses goes to just four services we are mandated to provide — law enforcement, courts, prosecution and indigent health costs related to criminal justice.

Although the budget I have recommended is 7 percent lower than the one for the fiscal year we are wrapping up, in large part because of cost reductions in wastewater and capital programs, I believe we have the opportunity now to take prudent steps to begin to restore some of our community’s critical public service needs, particularly in the area of criminal justice.

I also have recommended nine decision packages for consideration by the board that would address needs in law enforcement, wildcat dump enforcement and road repair. Together they would add an additional 33 cents to the combined property tax rate.

The budget recommendations in great detail are posted on our website at www.pima.gov, accessible through a link on the home page. And the budget hearing itself is scheduled for Tuesday, May 20.

We might start by thinking about the type of community we want to live in and the kinds of services we think are important for the quality of life we want to share.

We welcome your participation in those discussions.

Chuck Huckelberry is the Pima County Administrator. Contact him at Chuck.Huckelberry@pima.gov

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

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