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FLORENCE — The Pinal County Board of Supervisors approved a new annual budget of more than $512 million Wednesday, including a last-minute payment of $20,000 to help keep the Hayden Senior Center open.

The new budget is an increase of more than $60 million from the current one, mostly due to future capital projects. The county spends 63 percent of its General Fund on law enforcement, 25 percent on general government and 11 percent on health.

The budget includes a 2 percent wage increase in the second quarter for employees who meet expectations and a 2 percent adjustment to update the county’s salary schedule beginning in the third quarter. There will be no increase to what employees pay for medical benefits.

Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said with these latest raises, the county will have given its employees 10 raises in the last seven years. He said he’s glad to see the county treating its employees well, although “I just worry it’s at a pace we won’t be able to continue in the future.”

Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, commented that the county’s turnover rate has “dropped immensely” from what it used to be, and these raises have “slowed the brain drain.”

Supervisor Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, agreed, “If we continue to be competitive … we will continue to have good darn employees.”

Supervisor Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, said it’s important for the county’s salaries to be on par with other area employers, and Forbes recently listed Pinal County as one of the top places to work in Arizona.

Miller added he was pleased to see the third or fourth straight year in which the county did not have to pass along any increases in medical coverage to employees. “I think it’s good we’ve been able to absorb that.”

The final budget approved June 19 included a last-minute expenditure of $20,000 to help the Hayden Senior Center stay afloat for another year. This will be in addition to $20,000 that was already in the budget for the center. Gila County plans to match Pinal County’s funding, Pinal County Manager Greg Stanley told the supervisors.

Although the Hayden Senior Center is in Gila County, 80 percent of those who attend are Pinal County residents, Stanley said.

Rios said Hayden is in dire financial straits due to the sharply declining assessed values of ASARCO mining property. The town is laying off six employees, “although it didn’t have that many to start with,” has closed its swimming pool and is in the process of closing its library, Rios said.

Supervisors Chairman Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, noted his past experience working with senior citizens for their Medicare benefits, and he was glad to see this included in the budget.

Despite a new county tax rate of $3.79 per $100,000 assessed valuation, four cents lower than the current year, the county is expected to collect just over $3 million in additional property taxes due to higher assessed values.

During the public hearing, Christina Carrillo said taxes don’t appear to be going up a lot, “but I don’t like it. … One of the reasons we chose Pinal County over Maricopa was the tax rate.”

Goodman replied, “We’re reducing the tax rate, but property values are increasing.”

Also at the June 19 meeting, House expressed gratitude to the men and women who have come from all over the United States to fight the Woodbury Fire, burning 8 miles behind his house. He said they’ve managed to save several historical sites.

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