Mar 302011

By Tammy Gray-Searles —

Navajo County employees are being asked to voluntarily reduce their hours and contact state legislators in response to proposed state budget cuts.

In a letter dated March 22, elected officials, including members of the board of supervisors, notified county staff that the senate budget proposal would have a negative impact on the county budget of approximately $1.9 million.

“We know that there is a budget proposal coming from the Arizona Senate which looks to cut funding to all counties by approximately $150 million,” the letter states. “For Navajo County, those cuts translate to an estimated additional impact of $1.9 million for fiscal year 11-12, including all projected impacts from Governor Jan Brewer’s budget proposal, plus a state inmate shift and vehicle license tax shifts.”

The elected officials asked full-time employees to consider voluntarily reducing the number of hours worked as a cost savings measure.

“In response to the anticipated additional state impacts, we are also asking full-time employees to consider an adjustment to their work hours due to the situation at the capitol. This voluntary cost savings program, or VCS, allows an employee to voluntarily reduce their number of work week hours,” the letter notes. “The actual reduction of hours can be addressed by individual departments, and we ask you to contact your department supervisor with your requests or inquiries.”

Officials also ask county employees to call or write state legislators, urging them not to make additional cuts. The document notes that the senate is considering a proposal that would collect $50 million in long-term care contributions from counties throughout the state.

“During the coming week several of our county officials will continue to visit the legislature to tell our story,” the letter to employees states. “It would be very valuable to have help in sharing our message. Included below you will see a list of each state legislator that has ties to Navajo County. We would ask that you share your own thoughts regarding the budget situation with these individuals. Please remember that any communication should not be done on county time or with the use of county equipment and other resources.”

Navajo County elected officials, including Supervisor David Tenney, have spent time at the capitol imploring legislators not to shift any more costs to counties.

“There is nothing conservative about putting the state ‘in the black’ by ‘shifting the red’ to counties,” Tenney told the appropriations committee. “A shift of state costs to counties does not cut spending, it only shifts those costs to county taxpayers. In fact, some counties may have to increase property taxes to pay for these shifts.”

According to Navajo County officials, the senate budget proposal cost shifts include forcing counties to bear the cost of incarcerating state inmates sentenced to less than one year, and keeping road funds at a state level to pay for the Department of Public Safety and Motor Vehicle Division.

County Finance Director James Menlove and Deputy Finance Director Cris Parisot have previously indicated that in addition to state cuts, higher costs for employee insurance and retirement benefits are expected in the coming fiscal year.