Operations

Cochise County Anticipates More Budget Cuts

February 14, 2009

BISBEE, AZCochise County administration is struggling with budget issues, according to Wick News Service.

Recently the state requested the county give $75,000 for "return to competency," $43,000 as a local contribution to the state tourism fund, as well as accept a $28,000 reduction in shared lottery funds, said Lois Klein, the county's financial director — on top of the $416,000 the state has already requested.

On a county level, revenues have dropped, particularly in the half-cent sales tax, state-shared sales tax and licenses and permits, Klein said. She estimates that by June 30, which is the end of the current fiscal year, the sales tax revenues will come up $1.3 million short.

County Administrator Mike Ortega said expenses for juries and indigent defense attorneys have been projected to hit a cost overrun of $570,000.

Add in the decrease in planning fees, septic tank fees and even influenza vaccinations by the Health Department, and the red pen comes out to mark another $37,000 loss.

And though payment in lieu of taxes money from the federal government has been funded in full for the first time in 32 years, providing the county with a $1.5 million windfall, it still won't cover all the losses.

As a result, Ortega has set about cutting more expenses, down to the "bare bones," putting a hold on $361,095 that would have been spent on decision packages, which are particular departmental projects approved during the 2008-09 budget hearings. These include items such as 40 Tasers with holsters and cartridges for deputies and overhead projectors and an X-ray machine for the county courthouse.

Department heads have been required to cut operational expenses by 8 percent, which could save $175,000 over the next five months.

L.H. Hamilton, the county facilities director, is keeping a watchful eye on energy consumption in all county buildings.

The county's fleet of vehicles also is under tight scrutiny for fuel savings that could add $311,000 to the county's coffers.

For several months, there has been a hiring freeze on non-essential personnel with an anticipated savings of around $1.8 million. With the slow job market, Ortega said employees were staying in their jobs and that figure could change. Now that freeze has been extended to six deputy positions, saving a pro-rated amount of $204,000.

If the downward trend continues, the county could be looking at a $4 million shortfall in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Again, all 2009-10 decision packages, which provide funding for upgrades — electronics, software, vehicles, remodeling — could be deferred indefinitely.

Should that happen, county employees could be asked to work fewer hours at reduced salaries, Ortega said. They may be asked to contribute to certain benefits such as health insurance and/or retirement funds.

Department heads will be asked to trim another 5 percent of their budgets. That's on top of the 8 percent required for the 2008-09 budget year. Ortega, department heads, and the supervisors may end up reviewing essential and non-essential personnel and services for cuts that could occur by 2010.

 

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