Posted: Jun 18, 2013 By: Hunter Moore
Holbrook, AZ —Hit hard by years of budget cuts and fund sweeps at the hands of the Arizona Legislature, Navajo County's proposed General Fund budget expenditure for FY2014 will be flat again – the fifth consecutive year the County's spending budget has held steady despite population growth and an increased need for a range of services.
The proposed expense budget – set to come before the Navajo County Board of Supervisors at their June 25th meeting – sets maximum General Fund expenditures for the County at $39.9 million dollars, down more than $7.5 million, or 16%, from the 2009 adopted General Fund budget.
“Our County population continues to grow, and we're seeing even more need for services because of what the economy has done to families all over the County,” said District 3 Supervisor Sylvia Allen. “We're going to have to continue to find innovative ways to do more with less, because we simply aren't going to get any relief from the State. In fact, again this year, the Legislature took money we could have used here in our communities.”
Since FY2008, when the County adopted a General Fund expense budget of $47.3 million, the State of Arizona has hit the County with what amounts to a “bill” for nearly $7 million. 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 give up an additional $550,000 in State Lottery money. Total losses for the current fiscal year at the hands of the State? More than $1.8 million.
“We are running out of options,” said District 3 Supervisor Sylvia Allen. “We had a $400,000 appropriation set to shore up our FY2014 County finances, but it was slashed from the State budget in the final hours of this year's legislative session. I feel like the rug was pulled out from under our feet.”
Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon echoes Allen's sentiment, calling the budget cuts devastating. “The dollars we've lost to the State out of a budget as small as ours has been devastating,” said the County Attorney. “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. Unfortunately, we have seen little help from the Legislature.”
The General Fund impacts are even more significant in light of revenue expectations that continue to lag below FY2009 levels. While the County's proposed maximum budget expenditure is again near the $40 million mark, revenue expectations for FY2014 hover near $30 million, as they have for the past several years. With this is mind, actual County expenditures are likely to be as much $10 million less than the proposed expenditure budget – as they have been for each of the past 5 years.
“Between the cuts we've seen from the state and the way revenues have been lagging, we have to spend money in the most conservative way possible,” said Chairman Jonathan Nez. “That means leaving more than 70 positions unfilled and it means getting every last hour and mile of usefulness from our equipment. We're hoping revenues tick up, so we can pay to replace some of our necessities.”
District 4 Supervisor David Tenney cites the impact on the County's infrastructure needs.
“We are a rural county that deals with a mix of federal, state, county, municipal, tribal and other public roads,” said Supervisor Tenney. “Today, our infrastructure is being held together by a skeleton workforce, and an aging fleet of equipment that has done all it can do.”
“In the nearly 10,000 square miles that makes up Navajo County, we maintain over 300 miles of paved roads and over 400 miles of dirt roads,” said Tenney. “In Navajo County our HURF revenues have dropped by $2.5 million over the last six years. The combined loss to the communities in Apache and Navajo counties has totaled $20 million over that same timeframe. This is the wrong direction for counties and our residents. The State should not stand idly by, watching our roads and other vital infrastructure crumble.”