$2.5 billion: Maricopa County approves tentative FY 2018 budget

A view of the Maricopa County Administration Building, 301 W. Jefferson St. in Phoenix. (photo by Maricopa County)

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a tentative budget to ensure Maricopa County’s status as the fastest-growing county in the nation is sustainable.

The $2.49 billion budget makes significant investments in future growth while adhering to the county’s commitment to lean, customer-service oriented government, according to a press release. Final approval is scheduled for June.

“Today we passed a budget that makes sense for the residents of Maricopa County,” said Denny Barney, District 1, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, in a press release.

“It keeps us on a path of fiscal responsibility, while at the same time, investing in much-needed capital projects like a new jail and intake facility that will make our criminal justice system much more efficient.”

As the population increases, so does the need for well-staffed law enforcement agencies and faster systems of administering justice. More than 53 percent of the fiscal year 2018 budget is allocated for public safety and criminal justice, the press release states.

Steve Chucri

“Maricopa is the fastest-growing county in the U.S. for a reason,” said Supervisor Steve Chucri, District 2, in the press release. “This budget makes smart investments in infrastructure and public safety to ensure that our growth continues to be advantageous for families and industry.”

Capital project spending for FY 2018 includes:

  • $82.29 million for design and construction of a new jail intake facility. Using money already set aside, the county will build a 1,280 bed jail on the Durango campus with a separate, 512-bed holding facility for stays of 72 hours or less.
  • $31.97 million for a public safety radio system. When completed, the system will reduce or eliminate drops in radio frequency coverage for law enforcement across all 9,200 square miles of the county, increasing public safety and allowing the county to comply with federal law.
  • $37 million to convert an unused facility at 225 Madison into working space for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. This adaptive reuse project is more cost effective than building a new facility from scratch. It allows attorneys to stay downtown, close to the courts, while also freeing up office space for other departments which are currently outside the downtown core.

In addition to balancing the budget without increasing the tax rate, the county has retained two months of expenses in case of emergency. Meanwhile, the county’s levy (the total amount of taxes collected) is $148.2 million below the state limit, the release stated. This means Maricopa County government is operating in a way that requires less tax money.

“The goal is always smarter government and exceptional service,” said Supervisor Bill Gates, District 3, in the press release.

“Since taking office in January I have been amazed at the diversity of services the county delivers at a reasonable cost. This is not by accident. This year we were able to fund long term projects for public safety without raising the tax rate.”

Balancing a budget without raising the tax rate is increasingly challenging. Mandated costs for FY 2018 include:

  • $22.1 million in cost shifts and direct contributions to the state of Arizona. During the Great Recession, counties helped the state by absorbing losses of revenue once allocated to counties (highway, lottery funds) and paying for certain services controlled by the state (Juvenile Corrections, Department of Revenue). This year, counties were granted some relief and, as a percentage of the budget, cost shifts have gone down. However, since 2008, Maricopa County has paid more than $312 million in mandated cost shifts or direct contributions to the state.
  • $8.2 million in employee pension contributions. Maricopa County pays into several retirement funds. The required contribution rate of most of these funds has been increasing. The Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, in particular, has seen rates skyrocket over the past decade. Maricopa County’s PSPRS contribution rate increased from 45.32 percent in FY 2017 to 52.79 percent in FY 2018.
  • $26 million in court-ordered costs related to the Melendres case. MCSO has budgeted $19.7 million for compliance with the court order. The cost of the court monitor is budgeted at $5.02 million for FY 2018, while the court-ordered investigator and disciplinarian is expected to cost $1.44 million.

“These costs are not within our control,” said Supervisor Steve Gallardo, District 5, speaking about the federal court judgments, in the press release. “We have thrown millions of dollars at court ordered law enforcement changes because we are committed to reaching compliance. Every district has needs and we hope by tackling these required expenses we will free up money for future projects.”

Looking ahead, the county is optimistic about the long-term strategy for growth and financial stability.

“We worked for months with other elected officials, the judicial branch and department managers to craft this budget,” Chairman Barney said in the press release. “Many changed processes and reallocated existing funds which helped us get to a budget that meets our needs and long-term goals.”

The public will be able to comment on the tentative budget between now and the final vote which is scheduled for June 19.

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