Pinal County board gives OK to $498M budget: Spending plan tops last year's outlays by nearly $100M

East Valley Tribune
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Sarah Boggan

The Pinal County Board of Supervisors approved a tentative $498 million budget this week, topping last year's budget by nearly $100 million.

County officials said the 2007-08 fiscal year budget will reduce the primary property tax rate and will put money toward public safety and transportation.

Budget highlights include an increase in sheriff's office staffing, adding Superior Court personnel, and funding the county's Comprehensive Plan Update and several large-scale transportation projects. The county will end up spending 45 percent of its General Fund on public safety and the courts.

Two of the county's largest transportation projects are in the San Tan area southeast of Queen Creek: widening of Ironwood Drive/Gantzel Road and designing improvements for Hunt Highway.

Supervisor Sandie Smith, D-Dist. 2 of Gold Canyon, said she's pleased to see the money going to public safety and transportation to keep up with growth.

"They are major components of the budget," she said. "I think it's a pretty inclusive budget and heavy into public safety and transportation."

With growth comes accelerated needs, and Smith said they are handling those issues all while trying to trim property taxes.

County officials said this will be the second budget year the county's property tax rate will be reduced and the lowest its been since 1982. But whether a homeowner's tax bill goes down depends on how much the lower tax rate offsets any higher taxes due to increased value of property.

A rate reduction in tax year 2006 was required by a legislative enactment and the reduction this upcoming tax year is a constitutional requirement based on Proposition 101, said Jennifer Schuldt with the Arizona Tax Research Association, a taxpayer watchdog group.

Before the mandatory rate reduction in 2006, the county levied the same rate for at least five straight years, she said. According to the Arizona Tax Research Association, Pinal County has the second highest primary rate of Arizona's 15 counties.

For the 2007 tax year, the county is required to drop its primary property tax rate by 29 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The county accomplished that by dropping the primary rate 25 cents per $100 of assessed value and shifting 2 cents of the primary rate to the flood control district and 2 cents to the county's library district. Funding for those two districts are assessed through the secondary property tax.

In addition to other spending, the tentative budget also includes staff pay increases based on a market study of salaries and a 3 percent cost of-living raise for employees.

"It's important for us to keep the people we have," Smith said. "Training new people is really expensive. This keeps us competitive."

The supervisors will have a public forum to finalize the 2007-08 budget at its Aug. 1 meeting. A tax levy and rate hearing is scheduled Aug. 15.