County Considers $61.3 Million Budget

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With purse strings in knots last year, the Gila County Board of Supervisors adopted a $57.3 million budget. This month, the board approved a tentative budget of $61.5 million. However, they are able to make the increase without raising property taxes. For the 2002-2003 fiscal year, the total county-wide tax rate was $4.71, for FY 2003-2004 that figure will remain the same.

"The general fund is $30.8 million," David Patterson, Gila County chief financial officer, said. Last year, the general fund budget was $29.5 million.

The $61.5 million is the total appropriation for the 2003-04 fiscal year, he said.

"The roads will get a lion's share of the increase, but that is from outside funding, such as HURF (Highway User Revenue Fund), the gas tax, etc.," Patterson said.

Other large jumps in expenses were due to the increase in costs for insurance and state retirement, he said.

"It's better than what we expected," District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen said. "It's pretty good news for the employees and the taxpayers. We were even able to give employees a raise, something we haven't been able to do for about two years. It's important not to have attrition of experienced employees. We took a big hit on retirement, but we were able to manage it. My efforts back in Washington for federal payments in lieu of taxes helped. We brought $1.7 million into the county coffers. A lot of people helped make the budget work."

Insurance for county employees went up about $500 per employee per year. The program the county uses requires those employees who make more money to contribute more to their insurance costs.

Patterson added both general retirement and retirement for public safety personnel were increased. Retirement contribution costs doubled. They went from 2.2 percent to 5.7 percent for all county employees participating in the program, while public safety retirement contributions will now be 10.37 percent, Patterson said.

Another challenge is the new requirement for the county to contribute 6 percent of individual salaries into the retirement funds of all elected officials and judges.

All supply and service operations of the county won't increase, he said. However, six of the 11.5 full-time equivalent positions cut last year have been reactivated and filled, Patterson said. Also added into the budget this year is a 2.5-percent cost-of-living increase.

Revenue for the budget comes from a variety of sources:

Property taxes are expected to generate $16.3 million this year; last year the figure was $15.7, but only $15.3 was collected. Projections show a 4.5-percent increase in revenue from property taxes; other increases are expected in auto lieu taxes, which is money the county gets from vehicle license tags and registration fees; other licenses and permits; intergovernmental fees for such things as funds paid in lieu of taxes on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land, lottery money, various law enforcement and emergency service reimbursements and election costs; service charges and miscellaneous.

The tentative budget shows a slight decrease anticipated in sales taxes; a drop in fines and forfeits; and transfers.

Expenditure increases are planned in general government, 8.21 percent, from $4.5 million to $4.8 million; law enforcement, 6.23 percent, from $7.7 million to $8.1 million; judicial services, 3.5 percent, from $5.6 million to $5.8 million; and an increase in transfers out of 30 percent, from $2.8 million to $3.6 million.

Decreases in expenditures are expected in the areas of health, welfare and sanitation, 1.87 percent, from $2.3 million to $2.26 million; education and recreation, a 70-percent drop, from $1.37 million to $408,000; and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, 2.6 percent, from $4.5 million to $4.3 million.

The final approval of the budget will be during the July 29 meeting of the Gila County Board of Supervisors in Globe. The public will be given the opportunity to make comments on the budget before the vote is taken.

"The tentative budget is the highest it can go. We can only go down, we can't go up," Christensen said.

According to Patterson, the budget can be amended at any time. Amendments can shift money or reduce the bottom line; they cannot increase the budget.

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