Holbrook, AZ —Since June of last year, several Navajo County elected officials have tried to cobble together a combination of legislative solutions that would help to ease the financial straits that they are currently navigating. Like many other counties, Navajo County was quick to slash their budget when the economic bubble burst in 2008, incorporating multiple reductions in county employees, steep budget cuts, and salary decreases. However, when the State began to shift many of its own financial woes onto counties, local elected officials decided that they needed to attempt to stop the bleeding by talking to legislators in Phoenix.
In FY08-09, Navajo County began documenting multiple examples of lost revenues and state impacts which showed a devastating cumulative effect that only compounded the downturn in the local economy. The results are staggering. Since FY08-09 Navajo County has been required to give the State over $6.9M dollars in a variety of forms, and there is no end in sight. For example, in the current fiscal year, the County was forced to give $746,317 of its Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF) to the Department of Public Safety, and $550,000 in State Lottery money that it used to receive. Total losses for the current fiscal year were $1,851,254.
“The dollars we lose to the State out of a budget as small as ours is devastating. As subsidiaries of the State, counties are extremely vulnerable to sudden and unexpected impacts when the State needs to balance its books,” commented Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon. “Since the downturn in the economy, we have fought to keep a high level of service in local government despite a barrage of shifts, increased costs, and cuts from the State, and we’ve succeeded thus far. We’ve gone to the Legislature with a legitimate problem. We’ve told them that we have reached the end of our ingenuity. Unfortunately, we have not seen any real progress.”
For the Navajo County taxpayers, the impacts have been significant. The $6.9M dollar bill that has been sent to Navajo County over the last few years is equal to more than one year of property tax collected in the entire County. In fact, it is more than $1M dollars above what Navajo County generates in a single year.
Over the course of the session Navajo County leaders had multiple discussions with House and Senate leadership, prominent legislators, and the Governor’s senior staff, all in an attempt to improve revenue streams and diminish impacts to the budget. The County advocated for several different policies which would increase revenue to its budget on a long term basis, but instead, the Senate included a one-time $400,000 general appropriation for Navajo County in FY13-14.
“It wasn’t exactly what we had worked for,” said Supervisor Sylvia Allen. “But by that point, we knew that our budget at home was not getting any better, so we were willing to work with what they were willing to do. “We thought we had a short term solution in place this year, but at the last moment those funds were moved somewhere else. We had the rug pulled out from under our feet in the end.” “Imagine the feeling of being in a terrible storm at sea, having a life preserver in your hands, and then having it ripped away from you,” said Supervisor David Tenney. “That’s the best way I can describe the last 48 hours of this year’s legislative session. I thought we were going to finally see some kind of relief for our budget issues, but we really experienced a bad turn of events at the end.”
“We are going to need to take a step back and really look at where we are,” said Chairman Jonathan M. Nez. “We all need to remember that we are still experiencing the after effects of the loss of our Federal Bureau of Prisons Contract and the closure of the Catalyst Paper Mill. The loss of the prisoners is a $1.8M dollar loss to us, but we are still trying to quantify what the actual loss of the paper mill means to the region. I am gravely concerned about what this all means to our region and our County.”