Maricopa County faces multi-million dollar budget crunch

February 19, 2013

Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies are underpaid. A 5 percent cut could force the justice courts to close two courtrooms. That’s what Maricopa County supervisors heard at the last of many budget hearings Tuesday morning. KJZZ’s Al Macias says the board is trying to figure out how to pay for the requests county departments are making.

Department heads have been making presentations to the supervisors over the last few weeks about their needs and the impact of possible cuts to their budgets. The board told county agencies to plan for possible 3, 5 or 10 percent budget cuts.

The justice courts say a 5 percent cut could mean closing two courts, a 10 percent cut could result in a third courtroom closure.

Supervisor Denny Barney says county revenues have not improved enough.

"We’re not there yet. For fiscal year [20]14 we’re still dealing with a lot of those tightening issues that happened as values were declining on real property," Barney said.

Barney is referring to the 18-month lag on property tax assessments. Today’s taxes are based on property values from two years ago, when home values had bottomed out.

But the need for services has not dropped. The sheriff’s department said salary freezes have left deputies underpaid. Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox says she is trying to determine the priorities.

"The ask for the sheriff’s department was close to $30 million. I think that’s impossible to do. I think the one ask from all the departments and even the sheriff’s is increases for employees. I support that. I don’t know if we can give the amount they are talking about," Wilcox said.

Property tax projections show the county will be about $36 million short of last year’s collections. Supervisors will decide in the next few months whether to cut services or possibly raise the property tax rate, something they say they want to avoid if possible.

Updated 2/20/13 at 5:40 p.m.