Maricopa County is putting hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to immediate use helping people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic while also pulling back on discretionary spending unrelated to the crisis.
It’s a one-two effort to best serve taxpayers during a time of national emergency, according to a press release.
On May 18, the Board of Supervisors approved a tentative $3.071 billion budget for fiscal year 2021. The bulk of spending is focused on core statutory responsibilities like public safety, with an increased amount dedicated to community health.
“These are difficult times. This budget focuses on what people need right now: investments in their safety, their health, and their economic wellbeing, all within our state mandates, all without raising the tax rate,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Clint Hickman, District 4. “Because we’ve planned well and taken a conservative fiscal approach during the good times, we have the capacity to respond effectively to this crisis while continuing to fund other priorities like planning and executing successful elections.”
The overall county budget increased this year in large part because of an injection of federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the press release stated.
As the nation’s fastest-growing county with the third largest public health jurisdiction, Maricopa County received more than $398 million to combat COVID-19, money that is being spent on priorities such as personal protective equipment, hiring extra case investigators, and mitigating the spread of disease among vulnerable populations.
“This is a structurally balanced budget that puts taxpayer money to use where it matters and where it can make the most difference in people’s lives,” said Vice Chairman Jack Sellers, District 1. “I appreciate the work of my colleagues on the Board and the county leadership team in adjusting to a challenging situation without sacrificing our commitment to smart financial stewardship.“
As the scope of the pandemic and its economic impact became clearer, Maricopa County leadership considered new revenue and spending projections --- assuming a recession scenario for major revenue streams --- and then took steps to reduce costs including:
The tentative fiscal year 2021 budget keeps the combined tax rate flat and maintains structural balance. At a time when many other counties are taxing as much as they are allowed by state law, Maricopa County’s tax levy is $140.5 million below the maximum.
“We are cutting back on spending where we can and doubling down where we must, with a focus on wise management of the CARES Act funding,” said Supervisor Steve Chucri, District 2. “A crisis of this magnitude makes it even more important for our government to operate at the speed of business. I’m proud of how quickly we’ve been able to adjust our operations to serve constituents, all while not raising the tax rate.”
As in years past, a significant portion (44%) of the county budget is allocated to criminal justice and public safety with the next largest percentage covering health, welfare, and sanitation (32%).
“With this budget, we are looking to partner with our constituents to provide services that get them through this public health emergency, protect public safety, enhance democracy through the upcoming elections, and assist the many families and businesses impacted by the economic ripple effects of the pandemic,” said Supervisor Bill Gates, District 3. “As Maricopa County taxpayers tighten their belts and focus on essentials, we are doing the same.”
Investments in previous years ensured Maricopa County will have modern, reliable voting equipment and enough staff to handle the large number of voters expected to participate in the 2020 elections. An allocation of $17.2 million in fiscal year 2021 for the primary and general election cycle will allow county staff to carry out elections by making it easier for voters to choose how to cast their ballot. They will be able to request a one-time mail-in ballot, add their names to the Permanent Early Voter List, or vote at a polling location with enhanced access and safety measures in place.
New investments in fiscal year 2021 include projects such as:
The county will also continue to invest in new technology across departments and elected offices that will help staff better serve the public, whether they are in the office or working remotely, as many county employees have had to do over the past few months.
“Maricopa County has a long history of wisely managing taxpayer resources while remembering that we are ultimately here to help and serve people,” said Supervisor Steve Gallardo, District 5. “This is a time of extraordinary need. COVID-19 cases continue to rise. People are unemployed. Businesses are fighting to stay alive. With this budget, and our share of CARES Act funding, Maricopa County departments now have greater capacity to help.”
The public will be able to comment on the tentative budget between now and the final vote which is scheduled for June 22. Find additional information at maricopa.gov/budget.