Monday, February 11, 2008

Pima County Cuts as Bonds Are Considered

Posted By on Mon, Feb 11, 2008 at 8:50 AM

A Pima County sales-tax proposal tossed around a couple of years ago probably looks pretty good to bureaucrats right now, as county department heads scramble to meet the demands set by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry in a memo issued to all departments on Feb. 4.

Huckelberry had told county department supervisors that he needed to see a reduction of 2 to 5 percent from each department, with some departments like Development Services being explicitly told to consider layoffs.

Employees in Development Services are nervously waiting to hear from director Carmine DeBonis what areas of the department will begin layoffs. DeBonis presented a plan to save money with a hiring freeze and permit-approval streamlining, but Huckelberry told him it wasn’t enough--and to prepare for layoffs.

Development Services was a nice cash cow for the county while housing and commercial building increased, but that permit money is now almost nil as housing construction has turned south. In any case, DeBonis deserves some credit: He transformed a neglected department into one that most city governments would envy, as he restructured the department to make permitting faster and more efficient.

Huckelberry’s Feb. 4 memo also let department heads know the 2 percent minimum budget-reduction request first announced in January would possibly need to be greater.

“Consequently at this point it appears that my budget recommendation to the Board of Supervisors will necessarily include a reduction in existing base budget expenditures of at least 2 percent and the likelihood is that the recommended reduction will be greater,” he wrote.

The budget challenges he outlines include salary increases to commissioned and corrections officers that will cost an additional $2.4 million next year; mandated increases to officials' salaries next year costing more than $250,000; and existing employee medical insurance is expected to rise in costs more than $2 million.

While Huckelberry has said new libraries and parks could be delayed, the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee continues to meet and plan a bond proposal to bring before the Board of Supervisors. The committee continues to look at everything from libraries and parks, to conservation acquisition--aka open space land purchases.

The last committee meeting was Feb. 1, and the next meeting takes place Feb. 29 at the Manning House, 450 W. Paseo Redondo. More than $1.4 billion in project funding requests are on the table. The committee will begin to look at whittling that down to about $700 million.

Friends at the Sonoran Desert Protection Coalition said they hope open-space land acquisition stays at about $285 million in order for the county to hold up its end of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. They’d like an additional $10 million to go toward flood plain acquisition.

Bond information and the committee meeting schedule is at www.pima.gov/bonds/committeeBAC/BACcommittee.htm. If you want to lend a voice in support of the bond and open space, the coalition recommends you send an e-mail to bondinfo@pima.gov.

Hopefully someone will be there to receive the e-mail and not looking for a new job.

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