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Ask any credible financial planner the best way to get one’s finances in order and their immediate response will likely be: “Complete a budget and stick to it.” It’s a great tool for any family, business or entity to use to track their money – no matter how big the wallet.

In an organization as large as Coconino County, which serves more than 134,000 residents, a budget serves as a critical planning, communication and fiscal document that outlines the operations and services relied upon by scores of county residents. And on June 19, the County Board of Supervisors tentatively adopted the County’s $181.4 million Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

As with any household or business, it is not prudent to formulate a budget year by year.  The County utilizes a 10-year financial plan, which is continually updated to anticipate changes in the economy to ensure financial decisions made today are sustainable into the future.

The County’s transparent budget process began by reviewing and scoring every taxpayer-funded program. This was done by thoroughly studying departmental funding requests and discussing how well each program aligns with the County’s standards and commitment to service.

During meetings with county staff, growing concerns were voiced about addressing employee compensation to avoid costly turnover.  The decision was also made to address facility and information technology upgrades, which were delayed for four years as the County worked to absorb the impacts from the recession and state after it transferred the cost to counties to balance the state budget.

The Board and county administration have long recognized that to continue our mission of providing the services residents expect and deserve, we must reinvest in the organization in a prudent and fiscally responsible manner. Ignoring facility needs, using outdated technology and incurring costs to recruit and train new employees who replace veteran staff are not efficient uses of taxpayer money.

The objective of our budget process is to achieve the highest dollar value by balancing the programs offered, investments in staff and the tools needed to provide efficient services. Creating the budget has become an increasing challenge over the past several years, as the County has seen major decreases in state and federal funding.

The state has swept millions in County Highway User Revenue Funding (HURF) and Congress has failed to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS).  Both programs are used to complete critical road maintenance projects within our County.

While exactly how much state and federal funding will be available in the future remains unclear, we have planned ahead and balanced our budget with these uncertainties in mind.

In the meantime, to aid in helping the local economy, the Board of Supervisors approved a plan that avoids raising property tax rates. That will impact every home, property and business owner throughout our region.

Property tax rates tentatively set by the Board of Supervisors ensure the County will remain among the lowest one-third of the state’s counties with the smallest primary and secondary property taxes.

Overall county property tax levies (primary plus secondary taxes) decreased more than $500,000 between FY 12 and FY 13. This means a majority of taxpayers will see an average $10 decrease for a home assessed at $300,000 on the county portion on their overall tax bill.

The Board is scheduled to adopt a final version of the $181,475,957 budget July 10, with the final tax rates being set Aug. 7.  FBN

Interim Coconino County Manager Mike Townsend is a lifelong resident of Flagstaff. 

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