County faces budget cuts; layoffs, service cutbacks loom

Faced with a bleak financial picture, Mohave County government plans to slash funding for county departments anywhere from 1 to 15 percent in fiscal year 2000-2001, according to Interim County Manager Dick Skalicky.

Skalicky said on Wednesday that he instructed department heads to cut their budgets an average of 12 percent so that he can present a balanced budget to the Mohave County supervisors, who plan three days of hearings next week.

He held a series of meetings with department heads Wednesday, and more meetings were scheduled for today.

"In order to make things balance out, we had to take the existing budgets that we had in place this year and cut back from them," Skalicky said.

The supervisors adopted a $137 million spending plan for the 1999-2000 fiscal year, which concludes June 30.

The cuts may mean reductions in services and staff layoffs as well as freezes for salaries and travel, Skalicky said.

He ruled out increasing the sales and property taxes, but said raising fees for building permits and other services is a possibility.

"We presented a budget that does not call for an increase in property taxes or sales taxes," Skalicky said.

County Supervisor Carol Anderson has called for raising the property taxes (currently $1.75 per $100 in assessed valuation) and hiking sales taxes (now 7.25 percent in Kingman) by an additional quarter percent.

During the May 22 meeting, Supervisors Buster Johnson and Jim Zaborsky expressed support for raising the sales tax, but indicated they opposed a higher property tax rate.

"If there is no increase in new revenue either through increasing property and/or increasing sales taxes of one-fourth of a percent, then there will be serious cutbacks in services the county currently provides.

Every department will be affected," Anderson said.

Property taxes are expected to generate $27.7 million for the county during the current fiscal year, according to the 1999-2000 budget.

The county has about 250,000 parcels.

Raising property taxes 21 cents for every $100 in assessed valuation could generate $2 million a year for the county, Anderson said.

A quarter-percent increase in the sales tax could generate a similar amount of money, she said.

However, Anderson said, "The sales tax is a more capricious revenue stream because it is based on the economy, whereas the property tax is a more stable and dependable revenue source."

The supervisors imposed the county's first sales tax, at a quarter-cent on the dollar, to raise money for new buildings.

The sales tax, which went into effect Jan.

1, is expected to raise $125.9 million over the next 20 years.

Supervisor Buster Johnson did not comment on the latest budget proposals because he did not attend meetings with staff on Wednesday.

"Dick Skalicky should bring us a balanced budget," Johnson said.

"That's when people can lobby for extra funding.

If there is no extra money, there is no extra funding."

The morale of county employees dropped Wednesday following announcements of the planned budget cuts.

"It's just very sad," said Patty Mead, a registered nurse who heads the Mohave County Department of Health and Social Services.

"Employees work really hard."

The situation "is worse than" low morale, Risk Manager Dean Beyer said.

He said county employees who face wage freezes may jump ship to state agencies that pay $5,000 more a year.

Anderson bemoaned what she said has been the lack of strategic planning, and said cuts may not be made in mandated services such as law enforcement or the courts.

Instead, the county will need to cut so-called "discretionary" funding such as for consultants and association memberships.