County's budget outlook brightens

Flushed by a brighter outlook for the upcoming budget year, Mohave County government employees could get raises averaging 11 percent, the county supervisors learned during a workshop on Tuesday.

County government will be able to increase pay as well as service without raising sales and property taxes, according to County Manager Ron Walker.

A majority of the estimated 1,100 county employees have gone without raises since the 1999-2000 fiscal year.

The county supervisors inherited a bad financial situation last year, but staff has made considerable progress, Walker told his three bosses at the start of the two-hour workshop.

He said that the county's lobbyists in Phoenix saved the county from an expected cut of $430,000 in state funding.

Walker and finance director John Timko unveiled a proposed general fund budget for the 2002-2003 fiscal year that anticipates $5 million in carryover funds when the current fiscal year ends June 30.

They project a general fund budget of nearly $52.4 million, up $4 million over the current fiscal year.

The current general fund budget is about one-third of the overall budget of $150 million adopted by the county supervisors last August.

The county derives general fund revenue from sales and property taxes, licenses and permits, charges for services, fines and other sources.

The county derives the remainder of its budget from state and federal funds and special district taxes that support services such as libraries and flood control.

The supervisors are scheduled to adopt a tentative budget July 15 and approve the final one Aug.

5, according to Timko.

Projected general fund revenue for 2002-2003 includes:

• More than $18.3 million from the primary property tax, an increase of more than $1 million from 2001-2002;

• More than $1.5 million in federal payments in lieu of property taxes, up $454,388;

• About $13.5 million in state-shared sales taxes, down $474;

• About $4.6 million in auto lieu taxes, up $487,793;

• A total of $960,311 in special district reimbursement, up $127,881;

• A total of $320,000 from the jail bond transfer;

• And the $5 million in carryover funds, up from $1.2 million.

Walker, Timko and other members of the county management team proposed more than $4 million in spending increases in the 2002-2003 fiscal year.

They include:

• More than $1.1 million for pay hikes and increased benefit

• A contingency fund increase of $766,000;

• Some $551,000 for 11 full-time employees added to the public defender's office;

• Principal payment for certificates of participation, $500,000;

• A total of $350,000 for the elections department;

• Inmate health care in the jail, $317,000.

• A management analysis group for the department of financial services, costing $191,000;

• And $132,000 for state-mandated services at Superior Court.

The proposal is supported by department heads and elected officials who run departments, Timko told the supervisors.

"The proposed budget recommendation will not include everything we want, but it is a budget we are willing to support in order to fund competitive wages for our current and future employees," a memo signed by Timko and 11 other department heads stated.

Timko drew praise from several department heads.

"I have never had a better budget experience," said Bill Ekstrom, who has been county attorney nearly 23 years.

"I have enjoyed the process more than I ever had.

It gives us real positive feelings about the county."

While Ekstrom and other elected officials praised Timko, District 3 Supervisor Buster Johnson peppered him about the carryover, other budget figures and the salary survey that led to the pay hike recommendations.