County Finances Shine Light In Otherwise Dark Times

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With the stock market bouncing like a gymnast on a trampoline and the nation’s economic downturn eliciting dire predictions, Gila County’s $22 million in reserves creates an enviable situation, county officials said recently.

Although the county used $800,000 in reserves to balance this year’s budget, and abandoned plans for further tax rate reductions due to the state’s demand for $725,000 to balance its budget, the county’s reserves should buffer any impending doom, said Supervisor Tommie Martin.

Money carried over from last year’s budget to this year’s includes $2 million in the general fund, $8.5 million from public works

and $4 million in cash flow reserves.

“The reserves that we’ve put together,” Martin said, “are a result of everybody holding the line on expenditures.” She said that appropriately managed, the county can ride out tough times for two or three years.

Gila County’s finances appear more solvent than many other Arizona counties, the state, or the nation, Martin added.

Predictions for Arizona’s current year deficit vary from $550 million to $2.2 billion.

Martin said the county was planning to lower the rate, which would reduce the tax due on a $100,000 home from $411 to $392.

After Arizona decided to ask Gila County for $725,000, in a move state Treasurer Dean Martin said was exceptionally creative and marginally constitutional, county supervisors decided to ask taxpayers for the money instead of digging further into reserves.

All told, the state asked counties to contribute $73 million to balance its budget. County officials fear that state legislators, post-election, will reconvene, revamp the budget and demand more money. “How can you not think that?” Martin wondered.

She called this newest taxpayer burden the state’s, “bill to you for allowing them to be poor managers.”

Gila County’s budget saw few cuts and marginal increases, though it called for no salary increases and required that vacant positions stay vacant for at least 60 days.

Supervisors expected increased reliance on services, and added $129,000 to the library’s budget, up to $1.2 million.

Law enforcement received an extra $1.1 million, up to $12.6 million, though county officials said at the time that money funded retirement and health insurance and did not add new positions.

Cuts included $830,000 from road maintenance and repair, $10,000 from general government costs, which includes administration, and $30,000 from flood plain management.

“Let’s just stay in the saddle and we’ll get through this,” said county manager Steve Besich.

Comments

Dan Haapala 5 years, 9 months ago

The recent article in the Payson Roundup entitled 'County finances shine light in otherwise dark times' by Suzanne Jacobson, would appear to explain the largest budget in Gila County history. It may sound good, but as Paul Harvey would say, 'here's the rest of the story'.

The facts are:

The State of Arizona gives the County a formula by which to assess property. As a result property valuations across the county have increased. The State also gives the County a mandate not to exceed a 2.8% increase on property taxes in any year. Your property tax rate in 2008 was $4.11 per $100 valuation. It has gone down to $3.92 in 2009 because that is the highest rate the County could charge without increasing property taxes by more than 2.8%. Understand then, the rate is reduced because of State law, and actual property taxes went up by an average of 2.8% and in many cases much more. County rhetoric on this is very misleading.

It can be said, it appears, that there is $22 million in reserve. That $22 million is made up of $9.3 million left from $10 million in reserve funds in the 2008 budget, plus money in various departments that wasn’t spent last year and shown as a carry forward in the 2009 budget, yet not tagged for any specific purpose.

So why do they need more? And why did they have to budget a $5 million loan for capital improvement projects while cutting the public works roads department by more than $800,000?

It seems obvious to me that the county has gotten used to getting more money each year and wants to continue getting it. They can blame the State for mismanagement and requiring a payback bailout, but I believe that could be challenged in court and won as unconstitutional. The State Treasurer, as the article states, may hold the same view.

We have a County Government that is out of control, wants all the money it can get, and expects the "Rich Folks in The North" to pay the bill. It must end and it must end with this election.

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