County tentative budget

The County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a tentative budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 that foresees raises in property tax rates and overall expenditures for the third consecutive year.

Finance Director Mauricio Chavez recommended a five-cent primary property tax increase during a meeting on July 3, saying: “The proposed increase we’re recommending at a minimum is due to a significant amount of savings that we used to balance the budget.”

But the supervisors ultimately decided to adopt a larger 10-cent hike – at least for the tentative version of the budget – setting it at $3.98 per $100 of assessed value, compared to last year’s $3.88.

“I think that it’s important to give the board those options right now,” Supervisor Bruce Bracker said of the larger rate increase. “We’re going to be hearing back from the community and it’s important to bring those comments back to this board.”

In an email on Wednesday afternoon, County Manager Jennifer St. John noted that in addition to the potential 0.10 primary tax rate increase, the tentative budget would also raise the secondary flood control tax by two cents to 0.796. Combined with a 0.10 secondary fire district tax rate, the county’s total tax rate as defined by the tentative budget would be $4.88 per $100 of assessed value, compared to $4.76 last year.

Funds set to grow

The overall tentative budget for 2019-20 was set at $83.2 million, a more than $5 million increase from last year’s adopted budget.

In her email, St. John said the county expects to bring in more revenue from state and federal grants, raising the special revenue budget by nearly $2 million to $44.4 million. In addition, the capital projects budget also shows an increase of $1.4 million due to new grants for several projects on tap for the next fiscal year, including renovations at the airport.

The general fund, which covers the county’s core operations and administrative costs, is set to increase to $29 million compared to last year’s expected $28.2 million. Chavez said during the July 3 meeting that the two biggest expenditures impacting the county’s general fund for the coming fiscal year are raises in the minimum wage and an increase in healthcare and retirement costs.

“We’ve, I think, been very frugal when it comes to a lot of things, when it comes to expenditures,” Supervisor Manuel Ruiz said. “There’s a lot of things that the staff have worked really hard to try to cut down the expenses and find new ways of doing things a little better.”

One cost-saving measure the county took last year was to close the Sonoita Justice Court and consolidate Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 with Precinct 1 at the end of last year – a move that St. John said would save about $200,000 in the new fiscal year.

“If the county had kept JP 2 operational, we would have seen a proportional increase in retirement for both JP 2 and Constable 2,” she told the NI.

Both Ruiz and St. John reminded the few audience members present at the meeting that the potential 10-cent tax raise was part of setting the cap for the final budget, which is scheduled to be discussed and adopted on Aug. 7, following a public hearing that day at 10:30 a.m.

“When it came time to adopt, we wouldn’t necessarily have to adopt the 0.10 – we could pare it down to the five cents,” Ruiz said.

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