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10:23 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

Projected expenses $6.5M larger than income

Yavapai County will see revenues grow in 2004-05, but department heads are seeking about $6.5 million more than the county supervisors will have to work with, District 1 Supervisor Gheral Brownlow said.

"We will do what we can within our budget capabilities," Brownlow said Friday afternoon.

He and supervisors Lorna Street of District 2 and Chip Davis of District 3 concluded a week of budget sessions with County Administrator Jim Holst and the department heads that day.

Holst submitted a proposed budget exceeding $174.5 million for the fiscal year starting July 1. And while the proposed budget is lower for now than a budget of nearly $176.5 million adopted for the current fiscal year, Holst said he expects the final document adopted in August to rise to reflect pay hikes.

A 1 percent raise for the estimated 1,500 county employees would cost the county at least $400,000 in the new fiscal year, according to Holst.

Raising the pay of county employees to make their wages more competitive with other jurisdictions is one of Brownlow's top priorities. Street and Davis could not be reached for comment.

"I think overall we will look at a 4 percent (cost-of-living) raise, and 1 percent merit raise," Brownlow said.

Brownlow noted that about 15 job titles – perhaps affecting 50 county jobs altogether – have been "pegged at way below the competitive market."

Sheriff Buck Buchanan, who is retiring after serving as the county's top law enforcement officer since January 1989, is one department head clamoring for higher pay. He submitted a detailed proposal to the supervisors in which he stated that pay for his employees is not competitive when compared statewide to similar agencies, and that gap leads to higher turnover.

Buchanan said Arizona Department of Public Safety officers earn $4,000 more a year than sheriff's deputies, who start at $32,164 a year. He has proposed raising the starting pay to $35,380 and the top pay – currently at $43,785 – to $48,165.

The sheriff's office has more than 400 employees, about 120 of whom are sworn officers, Buchanan said.

The proposed budget for the sheriff's office paid for through the general fund exceeds $9.3 million, up 5 percent from the 2003-04 fiscal year. The sheriff's office receives money from the general fund and from state and federal grants.

The jail district operated by the sheriff's office receives its money from a quarter-percent sales tax. The proposed budget for the jail district exceeds $13.9 million, down 15 percent.

The jail district budget is expected to drop about $3 million because the county recently opened the first 240 beds of a 480-bed jail in Camp Verde, Holst said. The jail will cost an estimated $20 million when completed.

The county also needs to earmark about $5 million apart from the jail district tax source to pay for building the jail and maintaining it, Holst said.

While building an additional jail, the county is trying to reduce the inmate population by investing $1.5 million in a plan that Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Brutinel devised.

Brownlow said, "We put $1.5 million into our court system to expedite trials so we don't have to put so many people in our jails."

Buchanan said he is "very supportive" of Brutinel's plan, adopted a few weeks ago by the supervisors.

"If the board fully funds Judge Brutinel's proposal," Buchanan said, "potentially we could reduce our jail population to minimize the (need for) hiring of detention officers with the exception of those" hired to supervise juveniles aged 15 to 18 who are being tried as adults and housed separately from adult inmates.

However, the supervisors' decision to pay for Brutinel's plan means they will have to limit increases for other services and programs, Holst said. He added that a drop in the inmate population would reduce the need for staffing the jails.

Holst supplied a budget summary that shows the general fund would account for more than $71.8 million of the proposed budget, and would be 10 percent higher than the current fiscal year. The general fund pays for general county operations and services.

Projected revenues for the general fund budget for 2004-05 include about $28.2 million from property taxes, about $18.7 million in state-shared sales taxes, $6.5 million in vehicle license taxes, about $3.3 million from county sales taxes, and $2 million from building permit fees.

Contact the reporter at khedler@prescottaz.com