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Maricopa County Cuts Spending, but Property Tax Bills Will Still Rise

(Source: AZCentral): Rebekah Sanders – Even though Maricopa County officials voted Monday to keep property-tax rates steady and to spend $43 million less from the county’s budget, homeowners still can expect higher bills due to rising home values.

The county government estimated homeowners will see a roughly $6 increase on a $100,000 home in the coming year, which will pay for county services such as parks, libraries, flood control, air quality improvement, voter registration and the office of Sheriff Paul Penzone.

Property taxes levied by K-12 school districts, community colleges, cities, state and other special districts are additional and vary by location.

Among the biggest new county expenses in the 2018-2019 Maricopa County budget is $30 million to implement reforms to the Sheriff’s Office in response to a racial-profiling lawsuit filed over illegal traffic stops of Latinos under former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The suit was known as Melendres.

The money will cover body cameras, 26 staff members and a court monitor to try to meet a U.S. District Court judge’s orders to rid the agency of discriminatory policing.

County supervisors said they hope the court will soon declare the county in compliance.

“What we want in return is to make — and be credited for — consistent, measurable progress,” Supervisor Clint Hickman, R-Litchfield Park, said in a written statement. “Taxpayers need to be free of the financial burden of mandated, court-ordered Melendres-related costs that add up to millions of dollars every year.”

Sheriff’s Office reforms

Snow required the county to work with a court monitor who would issue necessary changes and oversee progress. The judge added requirements in 2016 after finding Arpaio and three of his aides in civil contempt of court for defying orders.

MCSO was 63 percent to 88 percent compliant with the various court orders as of mid-2017, according to Sheriff Paul Penzone, who took office that year.

Taxpayers have paid nearly $90 million total in legal fees and compliance costs in the lawsuit formerly known as Melendres vs. Arpaio. Adding the rest of this year’s and next year’s proposed compliance budget, the figure would rise to roughly $130 million.

Other key parts of the $2.5 billion budget:

  • $364 million for capital projects, including an East Valley court, a jail intake facility, Madison Street Jail renovations and park improvements.
  • A nearly $36 million increase in retirement and employee benefit costs.
  • $21.4 million for employee raises.
  • $20 million for the Recorder’s Office to run this fall’s primary and general elections.
  • $18 million less in funding for the county School Superintendent Office and $2.4 million less for the Public Health Department, largely due to grants that ended.
  • $4.4 million to design the Animal Care and Control shelter expansion in Phoenix, plus $1.7 million to hire additional employees.
  • $600,000 to clear a permit application backlog in Planning and Development.
  • $400,000 in additional cybersecurity funding.
  • 74 fewer full-time employee positions, with the largest decrease in the School Superintendent Office and Public Health Department due to grants ending.

Board Chairman Steve Chucri, R-Paradise Valley, said the budget is conservative with taxpayer resources.

“Maricopa County residents want to live in safe communities with a responsive government and a low tax burden,” he said in a statement. “This budget is all about maximizing our resources to deliver on those promises for taxpayers.”