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Pima supervisors to hold 2 days of hearings on proposed $1.9 billion budget

Pima County Administrator Jan Lesher's proposed $1.9 billion budget for fiscal year 2022-23 includes a sneaky $9 million property tax increase.

The Board of Supervisors will hold four budget hearings next Tuesday and Wednesday to go over the proposed spending plan, department by department.

Lesher, like Chuck Huckelberry before her — and even the Tucson City Council with Proposition 411 — seeks to raise taxes without saying so.

It's a pet peeve of mine. If a tax is scheduled to go away, extending it is a tax increase. Maybe people don't spend more money. In the county's case, property owners would see their tax rates fall — but not by as much as they would if the tax weren't renewed.

The county property tax rate comes in two forms: Primary, spent however the Board of Supervisors wants; and secondary, which is a voter-approved tax creating money that can only be spent to pay off bonds.

The secondary sales tax rate is set to fall by about $15 million as the county pays off old debts. However, Lesher is recommending the board convert $9 million of the drop in secondary taxes — restricted, I point out for emphasis, to voter-approved spending — to an increase in the primary tax rate.

The average Pima County homeowner (in a single-family detached home and according to county records) would pay $18.56 more than if the board just let the secondary tax retire.

That won't mean the difference between sending kids to Harvard Yard or Pima Community College.

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The supervisors ain't spending this money on tequila and strippers. The board adopted a Peter-to-Paul policy to fund big-ticket capital needs after voters rejected county bond proposals twice in three years.

It's like if a driver needs a new water pump but the family won't let them put the cost on the credit card. OK, it's gotta come out of the bank account. The problem isn't going away just because Cousin Rudy says "You don't solve a problem by throwing money at it" — the sort of conventional wisdom that only makes sense until you think about it.

This kind of tax hike can be sold as a tax cut, because rates are coming down. Switcheroos like PAYGO don't exactly restore trust in government. A key sales pitch to convince voters to approve bonds is that the corresponding tax increase will only pay for those bonds. Instead, voter-approved secondary taxes build capacity for future tax hikes in the primary property taxes supervisors to spend on anything they want. 

Lesher is inheriting this policy and she's not selling it explicitly as a tax cut, as was done for years under previous boards. Perhaps the supervisors had no other choice in order to make critical capital investments.

I might want to know why the county, in particular, has problems selling voters on bonds, and fix that rather than poison the well of public confidence for future bonds.

Meanwhile, the county is absolutely flush with cash generated by a growing national economy. The supes will get a budget with a "fund balance" of $137 million. That's $93 million more than projected in the current budget.

Lesher recommends converting $56 million of that money into a "just-in-case" fund. The remaining revenue would be spent on a series of county priorities including raises for employees, Banner-University Medical Center South and the Kino Sports Complex.

Interested in more? Well, the county will extend its budget review over two days to plow through the recommendations made by various county departments. The new budget will take effect July 1.

On Tuesday at 9 a.m., the board will start by dealing primarily with other elected county leaders. These hearings can be fun because sheriffs and county attorneys believe they were elected to carry out policies but must have their budgets approved by the supervisors.

It can turn into a game of "When Row Officers Attack."

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Popularly elected row officers dominate the first round of budget presentations Tuesday morning.

  • Constables
  • Clerk of the Superior Court 
  • Sheriff
  • Superior Court
  • Juvenile Courts
  • Justice Courts
  • County Attorney
  • Public Defense Services
  • Justice Services
  • Assessor
  • Recorder
  • Superintendent of Schools
  • Treasurer

On Tuesday at 2 p.m., the board will review the next slate of department budgets.

  • Analytics and Data Governance
  • Finance and Risk Management
  • Grants Management and Innovation
  • Procurement
  • Facilities Management
  • Information Technology
  • Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security
  • Wireless Integrated Network
  • Communications Office
  • Elections
  • Human Resources

The hearings pick up Wednesday at 9 a.m., with the presentations by:

  • Behavioral Health
  • Community and Workforce Development
  • Health Services
  • Library District
  • Medical Examiner
  • Pima Animal Care Center
  • Capital Project Office/Capital Projects
  • Attractions and Tourism
  • Natural Resources
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Stadium District and Kino Sports Complex

The hearings round out Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. with the following departments giving their presentations.

  • Development Services
  • Environmental Quality
  • Office of Sustainability and Conservation
  • Real Property Regional Flood Control District 
  • Regional Wastewater Reclamation
  • Fleet Services
  • Transportation
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Pima County set to hold public hearings on $1.9 billion budget for FY 2022-23.

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