A tentative $2.356 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year was unanimously adopted by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Monday May 16.
The tentative budget total is an increase of $116.8 million over fiscal year 2015-16, according to a press release.
“This budget follows a conservative fiscal path that the Board has embraced for many years,” said Clint Hickman, Board of Supervisors chairman, in a prepared statement.
“I asked my fellow Board members to endorse a budget process that continued to encourage collaboration, but that also emphasized fiscal restraint. While the economy is still in a growth mode, we must prepare for the eventuality of a slow down or recession.”
The budget adds funding for more criminal justice and public safety including a new juvenile court, with 13 adult probation staff and possibly 12 more as needed; and, increased prosecution costs with more than $1 million allocated for child abuse, sexual assault, and strangulation cases.
“The most effective government is one that focuses on performing core functions and doing them well,” said Supervisor Steve Chucri, District 2. “Today we passed a balanced budget that reflects what our citizens expect, a lean county government focused on mandates and public safety.”
Continued focus on justice and public safety
More than half — 53.45 percent — of the total budget is for public safety and criminal justice. The budget includes an additional Juvenile Court to address the increasing number of juvenile cases. Several capital improvement projects are taking place as well, such as the continued funding to replace the aging Durango Jail and intake center, which will significantly reduce time and costs of inmate transfers and relocations.
Four courtrooms will be added to the East Court Building, and construction on the Southwest Regional Justice Center will finish this spring. An adaptive reuse project on the Madison Street Jail is planned for fiscal year 2017.
“In the past eight years the population of Maricopa County has grown by 400,000 people,” said Supervisor Denny Barney, District 1. “Yet we have been able to shrink our jail population through innovative programs. Our budget has to respond to the demands of the justice system. Right now, that means more court rooms and probation officers.”
State cost shifts eased temporarily
Since 2008, the county paid more than $302 million in mandated cost shifts or direct contributions to the state as a result of legislative action to balance the state budget. The shifts are cost-sharing for the State Department of Juvenile Corrections and the State Department of Revenue, as well as Superior and Justice Court salary increases.
In fiscal year 2017, that cost is projected to be $31.1 million. While there has been one-time relief provided by the state in this year’s cost-sharing for Juvenile Corrections ($4.8 million) and Highway User Revenue Funds ($4.2 million), the county has worked these costs into budget projections because they are likely to return next year and going forward.
“For the first time in eight years, the legislature has given us some relief from mandated-costs, and we’re grateful for that,” said Chairman Hickman. “Since it is one-time money, however, we must presume those costs will come back in the future. I look forward to continuing these discussions with the State on this issue.”
Slight increase in property taxes may be necessary
The Board of Supervisors doesn’t vote on taxes until August. The tentative budget presumes that state cost shifts will return, so it projects an increase of $0.04 per $100 of net assessed value. The median home in Maricopa County had a value of $116,078 in fiscal year 2016, and it will be $121,100 in fiscal year 2017 (an increase of 4.32 percent). The property tax bill on a median home will increase by $11.68 annually. Maricopa County receives only 12 percent of every dollar paid in property taxes. The vast majority (54 percent) goes to school districts. With the adoption of this budget, the county will remain significantly below the maximum levy by $149.6M (23 percent).
“We cannot predict what the tax rate will be three months from now,” Mr. Hickman said. “We hope an increase in property tax isn’t necessary, but we have to plan as though it will happen.”
Projected decrease in judgment order (Melendres v. Arpaio)
The total operating costs at Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for implementation of the order for fiscal year 2017 are projected to be $10.2 million — there is a reduction of more than $4 million for moving overtime from this cost center back to the General Fund.
The cost of the court monitor is projected to be $3 million, which brings the total budgeted for fiscal year 2017 to $13.2 million. These costs include: training, outreach meetings, data collection and analysis software and hardware, development and implementation of an early intervention system, and bi-lingual pay.
“Maricopa County is court-ordered to pay the costs of compliance for the Melendres judgment order so we don’t have a choice there,” said Supervisor Steve Gallardo, District 5.
“But we do have the ability to hold the Sheriff’s office accountable for where that money is going. If we’re spending millions and the court appointed monitor says we’re only 30 percent in compliance, there are some tough questions the sheriff’s office needs to answer. The taxpayers’ money is much better spent on flood-control improvements, and other unfunded projects, as well as salary increases for county employees who went without a raise last year. So I’m pleased to see that there is an item for pay-for-performance funding in this budget.”