Political notebook: Supervisors heading for a showdown over county budget

Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller could claim a major victory next week if she persuades Democrats on the board to back a new budget that contains millions of dollars in cuts she suggested.

The District 1 Republican has been a reliable “no” vote on the annual county budget since getting elected in 2012, arguing, in part, that it did not have enough money set aside for road repairs and wasted taxpayer money on unnecessary programs.

However, Miller surprised county insiders last week when her latest budget plan — publicly unveiled during the meeting — found support with Democrats Sharon Bronson and Ramón Valadez.

The third Democrat on the board, Chairman Richard Elías, flat-out rejected Miller’s proposal and might vote against the budget on Tuesday, June 18, — more on that in a minute.

Miller wants at least $10.6 million in cuts in the budget to avoid passing a measure that would increase property taxes for most Pima County property owners.

In her goal for a “revenue neutral” budget, Miller suggested that the county either eliminate or delay some planned capital projects, decrease the county’s reserve fund, eliminate vacant positions and reconsider some departmental budgets that have repeatedly come in under budget.

“The amount of the expenditures we must cut is less than a 1% reduction in the county budget and I believe it is achievable if we sharpen our pencils and go to work on behalf of the taxpayers,” Miller wrote in an email to constituents on Monday.

The relatively last-minute proposal from Miller’s office has met some resistance from the county’s administration, with County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry writing that Miller’s suggestions rely heavily on temporary delays that won’t save the county money in the long run.

Miller didn’t return my call for comment on her budget proposal.

It is unclear whether she will support a budget deal that falls short of her $10.6 million cost-cutting goal.

But Elías, who has been a reliable vote in support of the budget in the past, says he is unsure whether he will vote for the annual county budget next week.

Elias, a Democrat who represents District 5, still wants to the budget to include millions of dollars set aside for early childhood education scholarships.

A critical vote, which could force the county to hold an emergency meeting if the supervisors can’t find a compromise, could come from Republican Supervisor Steve Christy in District 4.

Since taking office in 2017, Christy has twice rejected the county budget — citing similar concerns as Miller about budget priorities.

In the last decade, Republican supervisors in District 1 and 4 have consistently voted against county budget proposals.

How Miller votes, should she be faced with Huckelberry’s budget proposal, will be interesting as the roughly $1.4 billion measure contains several key priorities supported by the two-term Republican supervisor.

They include raises for county deputies and a major shift in policy to use millions in general fund dollars to pay for road repairs.

One unlikely possibility, confirmed by county officials, is that if the supervisors can’t reach a compromise on Tuesday, the county budget starting on July 1 would follow the guidelines and, more importantly, the tax rates of the current adopted budget.

This could be appealing to fiscal conservatives like Miller, who last year proposed across-the-board cuts for almost all county departments, as the tax rate would be even lower than either the property tax rate proposed in Huckelberry’s budget or the rate set by a budget package that reflects her proposal from nearly two weeks ago.

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