By Tammy Gray-Searles–
As Senator Sylvia Allen, and Representatives Brenda Barton, Chester Crandell and Tom Chabin visited the county, Navajo County Government Relations Administrator Hunter Moore presented “County Government 101” during a meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Moore pointed out a number of issues the county is facing, particularly in regard to the budget. He noted that the county follows best business practices in order to provide the best service at the lowest cost. He also noted that in some cases, such as with personnel, the value of the service is greater than the cost.
According to Moore, Navajo County:
“* Reduced actual general fund expenditures by over $8 million in the last three years.
“* Has had three separate reductions in force affecting 27 full-time employees.
“* 40 positions have been left vacant through attrition.
“* The 60 current vacancies in Navajo County represent approximately 15 percent of all general fund positions.
“* County employees had a salary reduction of 2.5 percent beginning July 1, 2009, that is still in effect.”
He told the board and the legislators that the three biggest financial issues facing Navajo County include cuts to the Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF), a potential shift of long-term care costs to the county and a proposal to shift state prisoners to the county jail.
Moore explained that Navajo County is responsible for more than 750 miles of roads, and that HURF revenues have decreased by 18 percent since 2007, making it difficult for the county to afford proper maintenance.
He also explained that a shift in long-term medical care costs to the county would be financially devastating, and that Navajo County is not able to bear the costs of the program.
He noted that, “Counties have no control over the program. The idea of shifting ALTCS (Arizona Long Term Care System) back to the counties is not a feasible one.”
According to Moore, a shift of state prisoners to county jails would be just as detrimental financially. He explained that the county relies on a system of leasing beds to other agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to pay for county jail costs. If those beds were unavailable due to a prisoner shift, the county would not be able to financially support the jail.
“We have a financial component built into our system that will be affected by the prisoner shift,” he noted.
Moore asked the legislators to do their best to limit any future impacts to the county when balancing the state budget.
Senator Allen noted that the last budget session was the most difficult process she has gone through, and that she fought vigorously for rural counties, but was not able to prevent all of the cost shifts. She also told the board that she is already working on a plan to salvage timber from the Wallow fire to help restore the local economy.
Representative Chabin noted that he is very disappointed with the outcome of the budget, and felt the legislature should have balanced the budget without shifting costs to counties or cities.