FLORENCE — Pinal County is on track to have a new annual budget that fulfills all department requests for new spending and personnel while trimming the primary property tax rate by six cents.
The Board of Supervisors informally gave that direction to the county’s budget director Wednesday.
Even if the county had a “flat levy” collecting the same amount of tax as in the current budget year, resulting in a tax cut of eight cents, it would still have an ending fund balance of $42 million, or a reserve of 20%. The county has a strategic goal of maintaining General Fund reserves equal to 15% of spending.
“I wouldn’t suggest we drop eight cents, but even if we dropped six cents — that’s even better than our four, and we still come up with a good pile of money,” Supervisor Jeff McClure, R-Eagle Crest Ranch, said in discussion with his fellow board members. The board has reduced the primary property tax rate by four cents a year in recent years. “That’s been a great direction,” McClure said, “… and we’re still doing well, and we can still approve the departments’ increases.”
The current primary property tax rate is $3.75 per $100 of net assessed value. If the board approves the new annual budget as planned in a few weeks, the rate will drop to $3.69.
Board Vice Chairman Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, said he thinks the county can afford to be more aggressive in cutting taxes. “The numbers are showing that right now … and we’re delivering everywhere we need to, we need to increase a lot of areas.”
Board Chairman Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, said he also liked the idea of cutting six cents. He said he could remember when the board struggled for a budget with fund balances equal to 12% of spending. “This is a real comfort zone to me.”
But Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh, R-Coolidge, asked about cutting taxes as the federal government fuels higher inflation. “Now I’m concerned with the government printing money until they run out of paper.”
Pinal County Budget Director Angie Woods replied, “The way we put together our forecast, we are pretty conservative when it comes to the revenues. And on the expenditure side, we’re taking into consideration some of the inflationary changes. … I’ve already built in some of what you’re talking about.”
She said it also helps that the county has healthy reserves. “The more we have in reserve, the more agile we are, able to react to the changing economy. … There’s less risk of a changing environment, we have more time to make decisions.”
Miller said cutting the tax rate a few cents doesn’t sound like much, until you’re a company investing $1 million in a property for economic development. “It actually turns out to be real money at some point. And those companies look at that number.”
The Sheriff’s Office plans to add 17.5 employees in the new budget, including 12 sworn officers. The Assessor’s Office plans to add 9.5, including four employees to staff new locations. The county attorney will add 5.5, including two who were previously paid by grants that are expiring.
Woods told the board that county population has grown 13% in the last four years, and the unincorporated area is growing as fast as the entire county. But the county’s full-time positions are only up 10%.
Community Development plans to hire seven full-time positions. The Recorder’s Office plans to add 5.25, including four for new locations. Facilities plans to add 5.5 people, Finance plans to hire 5 and Human Resources plans to hire four.
Increased operational expenses in the new budget include fleet maintenance and replacement, such as replacing high-mileage sheriff’s vehicles that weren’t replaced on schedule because of previous budget cuts, Woods said. Other sheriff’s expenses include aviation repair and maintenance and law enforcement equipment.
Facilities must pay utility rate increases, plus custodial and maintenance for three new office buildings. The Information Technology Department needs hardware and software maintenance, and Public Works needs more funding for community cleanup and the new desert dumping program, Woods reported to the board Wednesday.