On May 20, the Board of Supervisors set the budget ceiling for fiscal year 2014/2015. The tentative budget, if adopted on June 17, will raise the primary property tax rate an additional $.61 (per hundred dollars of assessed value). This is about 17 percent more than last year’s tax rate and an almost 24 percent increase from fiscal year 2012/2013. While the county administrator calls this a “maintenance budget”, I disagree.
In terms of operations costs, Pima County has been living beyond its means for many years. We have become dependent upon state and federal grants, which are quickly drying up. Despite the fact that grant funds should only be utilized for special projects or in a limited capacity, the county has instead used those monies to supplement services and departments. As an alternative, we should have been proactive in assessing our priorities to prepare for the day when those grants would no longer be available. We should not be using grant monies to fund essential services of the county.
With funds from certain grants going away, and the county having become dependent on those monies, the budget for the sheriff’s department will be significantly impacted. In order to compensate for those budget shortfalls, and make improvements to the IT infrastructure for our first responders, an increase in the sheriff’s budget is necessary. Without a doubt, I support our sheriff’s department and their need for increased funding; the safety of our deputy sheriff’s and Pima County residents should always be our number one priority.
Even though our taxes will increase, funding for road repairs will stay the same with only $5 million, or half of one percent of the county budget.As we have become reliant upon grant funds, we have ironically also become a donor source to the University of Arizona. Recently, Supervisors Carroll, Valadez, Bronson and Elias voted to continue the annual funding of $15 million to the U of A. I believe the county should not be funding the University, especially when those monies could be used on our roads-a core service we must provide.
Although most of us understand the need to live within our budget and adjust for nonessential spending, Pima County has not. We must secure funds for vital services before we dole out tax dollars to the U of A and other non-critical areas. Another example of excessive spending is the $900,000 dollar Pima County communications/PR department. In comparison to other large counties, Pima County’s communications department is six times larger than the neighboring, similarly sized Pinal County Communications department. Non-essential spending must be addressed and until my fellow Supervisors are prepared to sit down, make some tough decisions and re-evaluate budget priorities, I fear our property taxes will not only continue to increase but the return on services from the county will further decline.
As your Supervisor, I will continue to advocate for changes to county budget priorities and seek cost saving measures to ensure we are working for the taxpayers.
(Editor’s Note: Ally Miller is the District 1 representative on the Pima County Board of Supervisors.)