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FLORENCE — The Pinal County Board of Supervisors expressed a desire to continue a strategic goal of cutting the primary property tax rate another four cents in the new budget year to $3.75 per $100 of net assessed value.

Board Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, also spoke up for continuing to provide raises to county employees, even if the average raise is reduced from 2.5% to 2%. “It’s important to keep our salary structure competitive” and “I’m not willing to lose ground,” he said. Vice Chairman Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, agreed, “Let’s not zero them out completely.”

The board approved budget requests from county department heads at its Wednesday meeting while also signaling support for the tax cut. The board delayed action on funding requests for nonprofit agencies until June 10, when it is scheduled to consider approval of a tentative budget.

County Budget Director Angie Woods said she expects the county to finish the current fiscal year on June 30 with revenues of more than $194 million, up almost 4%. The majority of it, property tax, has already been collected, she said. In the new year, the county expects to overspend its revenues by almost $2.6 million, leaving a General Fund balance of $27.5 million. This is a reserve equal to 14% of expenses, a little short of the county’s goal of 15%.

Budget requests cut

Smith said it’s less of a deficit than previously expected, thanks to county staff reducing their budget requests. Several previous requests have been reduced or removed altogether.

The county isn’t currently entertaining an offer to sell the original county hospital and adjacent properties on Central Avenue in Florence. This means it won’t be moving the Medical Examiner’s and Public Defender’s offices to the Justice Complex, with the attendant remodeling expenses. Plans to repair the water softening facility that serves the courthouse and jail have also been put off for a future fiscal year.

Woods said the county will replace fewer vehicles, as the county continues to study a more efficient use of its fleet. The Sheriff’s Office reduced its request by $200,000 and will phase in plans for a new shooting range. Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Matt Thomas previously told the board the indoor shooting range has been problematic and costly for the county, and the department is working on developing an outdoor shooting range.

The county will also delay its Pictometry program. This is a patented aerial image capture process that shows the fronts and sides of buildings and locations on the ground. Deputy County Manager Himanshu Patel said it’s a tool that benefits several county departments. The original plan for the new year was to update what was done in 2016 and loaded into the county’s GIS mapping system.

Other cuts include the Assessor’s Office, which originally requested four new positions, will now have two.

The County Attorney’s Office will delay hiring for two positions until the second half of the fiscal year. The Information Technology and Economic Development departments have also agreed to reduced budget requests.

Remaining in the budget are $260,185 for Parks, Open Spaces and Trails and $240,000 to update Elections Department equipment and capabilities. Facilities projects include $450,000 for courthouse elevators and $250,000 for a new roof over Pinal County Juvenile Detention.

Salary raises

Salary increases, beginning in the second quarter of the fiscal year, could cost the county $1.3 million, based on an average raise of 2.5%. Salary increases for deputies and detention officers, also starting in the second quarter, are budgeted for another $800,000.

Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said county employees have received raises for the last three or four years while the county has many other needs.

“They deserve it, and it’s a tough year for them, too, I understand,” House said. “COVID’s been tough on everybody. But I’m just looking at this from the point of view that if you give them a raise every year, they’re going to expect a raise every year. … That’s a big-ticket item. I want to at least open up that conversation.”

Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, added the county is absorbing a 7% increase in medical premiums totaling $900,000, and in the private sector that’s considered part of the raise.

Rios said that while employees have had raises in recent years, ”we tend to forget they also went seven or eight years without one penny increase.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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