Hard questions raised at budget hearing

Public submits queries on Humane Borders, roads, raises and cuts
2013-05-18T00:00:00Z Hard questions raised at budget hearingJoe Ferguson Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The three-hour open house on the proposed county budget to let residents learn more about how tax dollars will be spent seemed to focus more on the "whys" behind the spending than the "wheres."

Questions submitted to Supervisor Ally Miller's District 1 office included requests for explanations on funding for Humane Borders and Planned Parenthood, and the "subsidizing" of solid waste services. Other questions probed whether County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is eligible for the proposed raises for all county employees, and why county-maintained roads are in "such deplorable condition."

The meeting held at the County Administration Building on Friday morning drew a crowd of roughly 50 people, who listened quietly as a four-member panel (including Miller) asked Huckleberry and other county officials to defend various policies.

County staff members, who were given the questions in advance, came prepared. A 101-page document distributed during the meeting attempted to answer each question in great detail.

The question on Humane Borders and Planned Parenthood, for example, explained why the county would financially support an organization dedicated to setting up emergency water stations on routes used by undocumented immigrants.

Funding the controversial agency at $26,500 a year, Huckelberry argued, actually saves the county money in the long run.

The county is mandated by the state to perform autopsies on every body found in Pima County. The price tag runs to $2,700 per body to perform an autopsy and cremate the remains. The price is actually higher, he said, because they county is also required to try and contact family members of the deceased.

"The public allocation to Humane Borders has always been viewed as a cost-effective response to our statutory obligations," Huckelberry wrote.

The county, however, does not give money to Planned Parenthood.

Some questions seemed to challenge the county administration on whether it was continually looking for ways to make cuts in the budget.

A question demanding a list of cost reductions in the proposed budget was met with an unusual response - there were none.

Huckelberry said in his budget transmittal letter that the new budget was largely a maintenance budget - continuing most county programs at their current levels in an attempt to maintain services.

Another question asked the county administrator to outline what a 5 percent cut in the budget would mean to each department.

In his response, Huckelberry chose to focus mostly on the Sheriff's Department. The department has largely been spared deep cuts, with its overall budget cut back by only 2.5 percent over the past few years.

A 5 percent cut, he said, would:

• Reduce response times.

• Reduce or eliminate deputy assignments to outlying substations.

• Reduce or eliminate deputy assignments for K-9, air operations, traffic investigations, DUI and regional SWAT calls.

• Reduce or eliminate deputy assignments in Criminal Investigations Divisions for night detectives, narcotic enforcement and cold cases.

• Reduce or eliminate deputy assignments for property crimes such as burglary and auto collisions when no one is injured.

A copy of Huckelberry's memo is expected to be posted on the county's website in the near future.

The board is expected to adopt the 2014 fiscal year budget in the next few weeks.

On StarNet: To read more about local and state government and political news, go to azstarnet.com/politics

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