“Originally, the county manager’s recommendation was to drop it to $3.79, which is ultimately what was decided,” said county Public Information Officer Heather Murphy.
“But Supervisor (Pete) Rios had asked the budget office to recalculate everything if we split the difference and made it $3.89 and used some of the funds to reward employees who have not had a pay raise or step merit increase for a number of years now.”
That came back for a vote on the tentative budget, Murphy said. She explained there was a great deal of discussion, a lot of commentary back and forth.
"That motion failed to get traction,” Murphy said. “The motion for $3.79 was the motion that got approved.”
However, the board has not “closed the door” on possible additional compensation for employees.
“It did not have to be adopted in this budget document they set yesterday,” Murphy said June 21.
“Chairman Rios said he wants to come back with some kind of a proposal but he’s going to wait until he sees an employee-sponsored proposal that’s supposed to come forth from the deputies association.”
Murphy explained the board can do something like that outside of the scope of approving the budget. It would mean that they would have to take money from somewhere else, most likely the contingency and use it in that purpose.
In any event, the county cannot exceed the adopted budget cap of $334,515,835, which is 6 percent lower than last fiscal year’s budget and “wildly” lower than the 2008-2009 adopted budget of $475 million.
“Now, part of that is because we no longer have the longterm healthcare services,” Murphy said. “But there has a been a significant decline in the economy since that time, a significant decline in building activity. All the signs are pointing in the right direction now, but there is significant shrinkage in the workforce through retirement, targeted layoffs, and programs were privatized, like recycling and so forth.
“We’ve seen a significant contraction in spending. That has enabled the county to approve the budget that is 6-percent lower than last year and includes a 5-percent primary property tax rate reduction.”
Theoretically, if property values stayed the same and none of the other assessments that show up on a homeowner’s bill increased, he or she would expect to see a 5-percent reduction in the total tax bill.
The problem is Pinal County only has control over the 28 cents of every tax dollar, Murphy said. “If everything stayed the same and none of the school districts or CAC raised their assessment, which I don’t think is a realistic expectation, the county’s still going to do the service it’s doing today with 6-percent less total money expended and we’re going to also be able to reduce people’s taxes,” Murphy said.
"The portion that the county takes from tax payers is getting smaller. I think most people are pretty favorable when that’s the case. Especially in this environment, when people are struggling so much.”
There was a lot said about Pinal County’s income level being least able to afford a substantial tax bite from its governments. The county has one of the highest assessments, Murphy said.
“If there’s an unbalance, we owe it to our citizens to try to correct if we can and make the county more affordable,” she said. “That would make it more attractive to incoming residents as well as incoming businesses.
By Christina Fuoco Karasinski