County Budget Up 7.6 Percent

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The Gila County Board of Supervisors next week will tentatively approve a $47.4 million budget for the next fiscal year.

Once approved, the tentative budget sets the spending limits for the county, said Finance Director John Nelson, meaning the county's expenses can decrease in some areas, but cannot increase.

"This budget reflects an overall 7.6-percent increase over the previous year's," Nelson said.

Two areas that saw the largest increase were landfills and road construction.

"The landfills are in the process of expansion," Nelson said. "The landfill budgets are up $1.6 million for that expansion."

The road fund is up $1.1 million over 1998-99. "That's due to the increase in state-shared Highway User Revenue Funds," Nelson said.

Taking those two areas out of the mix, Administrator Steve Besich said all other general fund expenditures round out to a 1.5 percent increase over last year.

"The two big areas of increase in the other departments are in the courts and health," Nelson said. "The court systems are up an overall 4.8 percent, and the big reason there is the cost of indigent defense going up."

Besich said the supervisors have little control over that expense.

"That's not something the board really has a choice on," he said. "Indigent-defense attorneys are only allowed to handle so many cases. So the more indigent people we arrest and prosecute, the more caseload is developed. Every time they hit their max, the judge gets another indigent defense attorney."

The health department's budget is up an estimated 4.9 percent over last year. But it's not all bad news for the department, the two county officials said.

"Two areas have gone down," Nelson said. Out-of-county tuition has gone down roughly $100,000 since 1998-99. The reason, Nelson feels, is that fewer local students are enrolled in colleges outside of Gila County.

"That can fluctuate widely from year to year," Besich said.

The costs for indigent health care --Arizona Long Term Care System and Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System --is also down 1 percent.

Even the playing field
For years, Gila County's contributions to the state health care system was disproportionate to the county's population. The county repeatedly beseeched the State Legislature to even out the playing field.

"The thing we agreed to with the State Legislature is that they would cap (our costs) based on our assessed valuation," Nelson said. "So as our assessed valuation goes down, like it did this year, (the county's payment) goes down."

The Board of Supervisors will review the tentative budget Tuesday morning at its weekly meeting in Globe. Once the tentative budget is approved, the county will publish the complete budget in the newspaper.

The final adoption of the budget is scheduled for Aug. 3 in a public hearing. The supervisors will set the tax rate Aug. 16.

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