Pima County passes $1.2 billion budget

Published: Jul. 5, 2016 at 9:41 PM MST|Updated: Jul. 5, 2016 at 10:35 PM MST
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PIMA COUNTY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pima County passed it's $1.2 Billion budget by a vote of 3-2.

The budget calls for a small property tax cut which could save homeowners about $60 a year. It will also give pay raises to county employees on a step schedule.

Higher paid workers will see a two percent increase while those on the low end will see up to seven percent.

Sheriff's deputies will see what is called a "decompression." Since deputies have not had a significant raise since 2006, workers pay has been compressed.

A newly hired deputy gets paid the same as someone who was hired ten years ago which many see as unfair. Street smarts and experience should count for more they believe. 

When hired, deputies and other county workers are promised step raises. Pay increases as a reward for experience. 

The deputies were seeking $7.5 million to even things out but were given $3.8 million.

"We took care of about five years of the problem," said Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos. "Maybe next time we'll get a little more."

Those on the low end will get about 2% but that goes up to nearly 20% for those hired nearly a decade ago.

The sheriff's department will pay for about half the increase through efficiencies, saving a few dollars here and there in a $150 million sheriff's department budget.

The vote was not unanimous. Some are concerned because even though the money was found this year, pay raises must be paid for in perpetuity. 

"It's a balancing act," said Board Chair Sharon Bronson. "We'd like to get them fully compensated but how do we find the revenue stream to do it without raising taxes in a substantial way."

The property tax cut is money the county saved by suing the state of Arizona. The county won the lawsuit.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said he would cut taxes by the amount of the suit if the county prevailed.

The state still has the option to appeal but there has been no indication it plans to do so.

Meantime, Huckelberry says he will go the state legislature to ask for authority to impose a sales tax in Pima County, the only county which does not have one.

Huckelberry says he will use the sales tax revenue to cut property taxes by as much as half. The legislature would have to change the method the board uses to approve a sales tax.

"Currently, you have to have a unanimous vote," said Huckelberry. "And it's not happened in 25 years."

Huckelberry wants to see less stringent standard.

"Perhaps that option should be a simple majority vote to impose that sales tax, provided the proceeds are used to reduce the property tax," he said.

In the next few weeks he will present a set of alternatives for the county to consider to reduce its reliance on property taxes. 

Those would include a jail tax which Maricopa County uses to collect $170 to pay for its jails.

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