The Coconino Board of Supervisors hosted eight days of budget hearings in May. The Board will adopt the tentative budget June 6 and the FY 18 Final Budget after a public hearing on June 27.
There are always challenges in developing a budget and focusing priorities. There are limited resources, but many needs. Every year, county management and the board consider and evaluate many competing programs to determine what to fund.
First, we look at revenues. What is the economy expected to do and how will it impact our county? Then we evaluate possible cuts in revenue from the federal government and cost shifts from the state. Uncertainty and sudden changes to expenses and revenues caused by other levels of government make it difficult to accurately plan how to fund programs that provide services to our residents.
Next, we consider existing programs provided by the county to make sure they should continue. If so, we must then look at the increasing costs for those services. During Coconino County’s budget review process, we have every county department and community partner share the successes and goals of their organizations over eight days of hearings. The board asks questions of staff, deliberates over special funding requests and contemplates how they match with organizational goals.
This extensive and thorough process is unique to Coconino County. In most of Arizona’s local governments, the budget process with the elected officials takes only a couple of days. During the Coconino County process, each of the department directors and elected officials highlight the outstanding and innovative work of their staff, and they share stories that illustrate how county services change and improve the lives of our residents.
As is true for any service organization, close to 80 percent of the general fund budget is spent on employees’ salaries and benefits. It takes employees to provide services. Since employees are our greatest expense, it is important to recruit and retain good people. Recruiting new employees because of turnover is costly to taxpayers and it delays services. This year, the county manager and the board have made it a priority to reduce turnover by investing in employees. They evaluated salaries and benefits, continued both the tuition assistance program and the volunteer time off programs and agreed to institute a new a deferred compensation incentive program.
The costliest positions to recruit and retrain, and the one with extremely high turnover, are Law Enforcement Deputies. Hiring a new deputy usually involves sending the recruit to the academy for a year before he or she can even start work. There is tremendous competition for new deputies and officers all across the country right now. Not being able to fill positions is also a risk to public safety. The board dedicated funds this budget cycle, and in the 10-year plan, to make compensation for deputies and other law enforcement personnel competitive in the region. We hope this effort attracts qualified candidates and keeps the invaluable institutional knowledge of our existing staff.
To improve retention, the county will also make significant investments to upgrade technology and improvements to facilities. This means that the employees will have the tools they need to provide more efficient and effective service to residents and visitors.
Included in the budget this year is funding for programs set as priorities by the board, including programs to enhance criminal justice reform, mental health services and community services, as well as to improve county culture and address transformational leadership. The new full time positions include a position dedicated to economic development and a position to enhance understanding of diversity.
Budgets are often a reflection of the values and priorities of an organization. Keeping taxes low while maintaining or improving services takes innovation and wise investments of taxpayer dollars. The Coconino County FY 18 budget prioritizes employees and invests in infrastructure and technology to improve Coconino County for all its residents.
More information on the FY 18 budget can be found here: coconino.az.gov/621/Financial-Reports-Information. FBN
By Cynthia Seelhammer, Manager of Coconino County