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10:38 AM Sat, Nov. 17th

$87M county budget OK'd

Hiring freeze continues in new spending plan

KINGMAN - The state may not have all its ducks in a row, but the county does. The Board of Supervisors approved, 2-to-1, a balanced county budget of $87 million and a primary property tax rate of $1.26 per $100 of limited assessment value during its meeting Monday. Supervisor Buster Johnson voted against the budget for the third straight year and the seventh time during his 13 years in office.

The budget slates $87 million in spending, said John Timko, deputy county manager of Management Services. Approximately $12 million of that spending will be held in the county's contingency fund. The remaining $75,113,000 in spending will be matched by the $75,116,000 the county will take in from tax revenues.

That represents a $900,000 increase in spending from last year's budget of $74,213,000, according to Timko.

The 2010 budget is more of a maintenance and continuation of county services as best the county can, than a building new programs type of budget, he said. The county has been able to avoid some of the more drastic cuts other counties and the state have had to make, because of "the careful, conservative, fiscal restraint of this Board and staff in early recognition of the downturn and taking the necessary precautions to avoid disaster," he said.

In order to get to a balanced budget, the county had to cut funding to 65 unfilled positions in the county, he said. It will also be necessary to continue the current hiring freeze at the county, at least until the county has a better idea of exactly how much revenue it will take in, in 2010.

"We've worked hard and everyone has participated. Many departments have made concessions that have allowed us to survive for another year and hope for better times," said County Manager Ron Walker.

"Most essential functions will continue to be provided," Timko said. "Some will be at levels lower than our customers have been used to receiving, but we will do the best we can with the resources available."

The county will be able to proceed with the construction of the new jail, the expansion of the Superior Court building, the remodeling of the Negus Building for the Probation Department, the construction of the Development Services Building and reserve funds for a new Moccasin Justice Court/ Sheriff's Building in the Arizona Strip area, Timko said - and save $600,000 for repairs and upgrades to existing county buildings.

Two items that may have major impacts on the 2010 budget are the opening of the new county jail and what happens with the state budget, Timko said.

The new jail is slated to open in April or June, he said. While it will be more efficient then the current jail, it will be much larger and will require more staff to run it. The county will have to wait until it is finished to see what the exact cost of running it will be, he said.

The second major impact will be what happens with the state budget, Timko said.

According to the Associated Press, Gov. Jan Brewer and the leadership of the Legislature came to an agreement on a proposed budget Friday and it passed the Arizona House, but voting on the deal was postponed in the Arizona Senate after it became clear that there wasn't enough support for it.

The state budget deal includes Brewer's November ballot request for a 1-cent sales tax increase for two years and a half-cent sales tax increase for one year.

If Brewer's sales tax increase fails on the November ballot, "we could see a severe attack on county revenues," Timko said. "We must be especially cautious with our expenditures during the first half of this fiscal year."

The county is already expecting a property tax cut that would eliminate the state equalization tax that has been suspended for the last three years but was slated to start again in the fall, according to the AP. The loss of revenue for the state from the tax cut could be as much as $250 million a year.

Brewer's plan also includes a 6.5 percent individual income tax cut and a 30 percent corporate income tax cut for 2011 and a spending cap, according to AP. The spending cap would stop state spending at $10.2 billion, the same amount as last year's state budget.

The plan also includes the possible sale of state properties, borrowing money, spending cuts and the delay of some state expenditures into the next fiscal year, according to the AP.

The county was already expecting to have to pay the full cost of sending a prisoner to the Arizona State Hospital next year. The exact cost is unknown, Timko told the Board in July, because the county doesn't know how many people will come through the criminal justice system and will need that service next year.

The state is also requiring counties to pay 81 percent of the salary for justices of the peace next year, approximately $96,000, he said.

The county will also see a 10-percent reduction in the amount of funds from the State Lottery, Timko said. The county usually gets about $550,000 a year from that fund. The state plans to keep about $55,000. The cut has already been factored into next year's budget, he said.

Another hit to the county budget will be $691,000 from the Highway User Revenue Fund, Walker said in July. That cut has also been factored into the tentative budget.

The economy could also put a strain on the budget.

Board Chairman Tom Sockwell warned that if the economy takes off and the demand for county services increases, residents will have to be patient, because the county will not have the revenue to hire more staff.