The 2016 legislative session at the Arizona State Legislature is underway, and the state budget and legislative proposals affecting Coconino County residents are being debated by lawmakers. We are hopeful that the session will lead to good solutions for counties.
While there were many successes during last year’s session, counties across the state were required to help balance the state budget by financially subsidizing state government more than in any previous year.
This budget cycle, Coconino County is seeking to work with our partners at the state on behalf of our mutual constituents for a more equitable share in fiscal responsibilities. While counties are willing to do their part to help the state when facing severe downturns in the economy, we believe it is not a good practice to have local units of government fund state departments.
For example, last year, the governor and the state asked Coconino County to pay more than $250,000 for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (ADJC) to help cover expenses at their Juvenile Corrections facility at Adobe Mountain, north of Phoenix. Our county judges send fewer than 10 kids per year to Adobe Mountain – and only as a last resort. Once there, the county has no jurisdiction over the treatment of the juveniles or how long they are incarcerated. Why are county resources going to a state program where the county has no control?
The county already invests millions of dollars per year on children placed in the juvenile court system so they can get the help they need locally, in their community, instead of being sent away. By investing in evidence-based practices and working with community partners, we are preventing 99 percent of our kids from regressing into antisocial behaviors and keeping them out of the state system. Counties are willing to partner in efficiency measures with the state instead of paying a flat fee for a department we have no control over.
Last year’s budget also required counties make payments to subsidize the State Department of Revenue, and to fully fund a partisan Presidential Preference Election that less than half of county residents are eligible to participate in — these state functions should not fall so heavily on to county taxpayers.
In addition, funding our roads will continue to be a top priority. The county was happy to participate last session in several legislative hearings regarding transportation funding. This session, we are hopeful we can continue to work with lawmakers to find solutions to the state’s aging transportation and infrastructure systems. The current model is insufficient to sustain economic growth, ensure public safety and promote tourism.
These issues, and protecting county authority to manage local needs, will be paramount to our communications at the Capitol during the 2016 session.
County officials recently invited the governor’s staff for a roundtable to cultivate relationships and increase awareness of the many services the county provides on behalf of the state. We hope this, and the advocacy efforts currently underway with state lawmakers, will generate a better understanding of the important role of county government. This collaboration has the potential to help all levels of government be more efficient and effective stewards of taxpayer resources while continuing to invest wisely in the growth of our communities. FBN
By Cynthia Seelhammer
Cynthia Seelhammer is a resident of Flagstaff and serves as Coconino County manager.