Basic needs and services versus bonds in Pima County

The failure to prioritize funding of core services was on prominent display at the June 16 Pima County budget adoption meeting. The board majority once again voted to raise your primary and secondary property tax rates following an emotional call to the public.

Members of the Pima County Deputy Sheriff’s Association addressed the board in a desperate call for the county to honor the step pay increases promised to them when they were hired. Deputies and corrections officers are making the same entry level salaries from when they started eight years ago. Without the step increases in salary, many are living with overwhelming financial distress. It was shocking to hear the stories of deputies relying on family members for food and financial support. Many of them work second jobs to make ends meet and most qualify for public assistance. These are the men and women who risk their lives daily to keep us safe. 

We expect them to perform impeccably while they are struggling to put food on the table due to the board of supervisor’s failure to ensure our core services are adequately funded.

Eight men and women from the sheriff’s department spoke at the meeting; their combined pay still less than Chuck Huckelberry’s $320,000 annual salary — one of the top-paid county administrators in the country. Tucson has the highest violent crime rate in Arizona yet our deputies are the lowest paid of the 17 largest law enforcement agencies in the state. This is indicative of how county leadership has failed to provide and fully fund the basics before spending tax dollars on the “nice to haves.”

Listening to the deputies was heart-wrenching and the mood in the room was somber. I seriously doubt any of them wanted to be there requesting the compensation promised to them from when they were recruited. While public safety is a core service of county government, the board majority chose to spend $16 million on vacant land for soccer fields and open space following a historic tax increase the current fiscal year.   

The plea from the deputies was in stark contrast to the individuals who spoke in favor of an $815 million bond package for a velodrome, soccer complex, art exhibits and $100 million worth of open space.   Approving this bond package will only increase county operating and maintenance costs and that will mean fewer dollars for deputy salaries and other services. Maintenance and operating costs for these projects will continue in perpetuity and increase over time — further impacting the primary operating budget, which determines property tax rates. 

Holding the distinction of having the highest property tax rate in the state, the board majority and county administrator continue advocating for nonessential spending while neglecting the most important core needs of our community: public safety and roads. 

(Editor’s Note: Ally Miller is the Pima County District 1 Supervisor.)

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