Reserves Help County Balance Budget

$2 million needed to bring $100-million budget in line; $9-million bond will expand jail facility

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Gila County will scrape through this fiscal year by using $2 million in reserves to balance a $100-million budget that aims to maintain services while expanding facilities with a $9-million bond.

Despite state cutbacks, the county expects to buy the Highway 260 building it now leases, build an expanded women’s jail facility in Globe and a new public works administration building.

State cuts resulted in a $484,000 net hit to Gila County in lost funds for law enforcement and courts, among other things. The county will increase taxes to absorb the hit while increasing funding to law enforcement and giving $300,000 to the community college.

The county can continue to muddle through, relying on reserves, until 2012.

“I think we’re good until 2012, and 2012 makes me nervous,” said Deputy County Manager John Nelson.

Supervisors adopted the tentative budget last week. On July 28, supervisors will hold a public hearing, and adopt the final budget and an increased tax levy. Taxes on a $100,000 home would increase about $7.50 to $375.

Nelson said the budget is not a spending plan, but an appropriation of all potential revenue including grant money. If the county does not allocate funds, it can’t spend them. Last year, the county spent $56.5 million of its $91-million budget.

This year, Supervisor Tommie Martin said it’s important to maintain services instead of cutting them.

“In the good times is when the government needs to be lean and mean, letting business do business’ job. In the bad times is when the government needs to support the people,” she said.

For instance, Nelson said the state cut funding for three sheriff’s deputies at Roosevelt Lake. The county will instead pay for them.

“This is not the time to be cutting back on law enforcement,” Nelson said.

This year’s budget for law enforcement rose 7 percent to $13.7 million.

The $100 million tentative budget includes a $37-million general fund, the $9-million bond that the county expects to float for new projects and $39.4 million in “special revenue funds,” which mostly derive from programs the county runs like the Workforce Investment Act.

Nelson said the county is undertaking the $9-million bond project now because both interest rates and construction costs are low. It will pledge sales tax as collateral.

Officials have long said the women’s jail is overcrowded — the new facility will double the number of beds to 40.

Nelson said the expanding public works department needs a new facility. The $5.5-million project tops the list at the most expensive. Also planned is the county’s purchase for $935,000 of the Highway 260 building it now leases.

By next summer, the county will still have roughly $10 million in reserves. However, half of that is cash meant to tide the county over during shortfalls — when it waits for income from taxes, for instance.

Martin said she does not want to use the cash reserve as a rainy day fund. “It’s two pots of money,” she said.

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