County budget tells who we are and where we are going

July 10th, 2017 | by Gilbert Sun News
County budget tells who we are and where we are going
Opinion
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By Denny Barney

Here’s something I believe that most everyone else will think is crazy: Budgets are not just interesting; they’re enlightening.

Let me explain.

Whether you’re talking about a single family, a small business, or a large entity like a government, people speak with their wallets. How we spend money gives others a sense of our priorities. A budget, then, isn’t just rows of numbers: It’s a reflection of the people making it. A mirror of sorts. Budgets are enlightening because they tell a story about who we are and where we’re going.

As chairman, I had the privilege of leading the discussion about our fiscal year 2018 budget. We talked about how to be a lean, efficient government that provides exceptional customer service. I challenged elected leaders and department heads to use existing resources whenever possible to cover their needs.

I met with them one-on-one in many instances, but I also leaned heavily on the judgment and expertise of others: our county leadership and budget office, and my fellow elected officials and their advisors.

In one case, a department came to us and said they no longer needed 11 staff positions and felt that money could be better used elsewhere. Another department requested less money than its budgeted baseline, which happens about as often as a snowstorm in Phoenix.

There’s a balance to be had. It’s great to cut costs, but we also realize, as the fastest-growing county in the nation, there are areas in which we need to invest.

One example is the new intake/transfer/release jail facility we are building. This facility will make the booking process more efficient, putting law enforcement officers back on the streets faster and shortening jail stays for those eligible for release. Facilities like this cost money up front, but will save us money in the long haul.

Nearly 54 percent of our FY 2018 budget is allocated to public safety-related activities because this board has prioritized creating and maintaining safe communities.

We’re also putting money into other areas: improvements to our parks system; an expanded space for Animal Care & Control; robust road management and maintenance; and additional resources for the Office of the Medical Examiner, to name a few.

Of course, there is no shortage of challenges as Maricopa County continues to grow and evolve.

The jail excise tax is supposed to cover detention costs, but the formula doesn’t work and this year we’ll have to shift $30 million from our general fund to the detention fund to cover operations. We will need help from the Legislature to address that.

State cost shifts are decreasing – and we’re grateful to lawmakers and Governor Ducey – but mandated costs still represent a large chunk of our budget. This year, the biggest change was a substantial increase in mandated county contributions to the Arizona Long Term Care System, which may be an unintended consequence of Prop 206.

But that’s life and that’s budgeting. There are costs you’d rather not have to eat, but you plan for the unexpected. That’s why the board commits to retaining two months of expenses in case of emergency.

I mentioned earlier I think every budget tells a story. So what’s the story in FY 2018? I’d invite you to read more at Maricopa.gov/2018budget. But here’s the short version:

We deliver great service at a reasonable cost. We prioritize public safety. We invest in a growing economy. We plan for the future. It’s a story I’m happy to tell.

Denny Barney is a Gilbert resident and Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

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