Supervisors tell Sheriff to scale back $12.1 million budget proposal

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Paul Babeu (color).jpg

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu

By Chase Kamp

Southeast Valley Ledger

The Pinal County Supervisors said a request by Sheriff Paul Babeu for an additional $12.1 million next fiscal year would not be financially sustainable at its regular Apr. 25 meeting, unanimously voting to give the Sheriff another month to trim down his proposal.

The Sheriff’s request included about $5 million for 69 new staff positions, $3.9 million for 65 new vehicles and $1.1 million to replace 44 vehicles. About $1 million was requested to fund holiday pay and employee related expenses and $950,000 to fund additional equipment, software, leasing, training, and fuel.

Supervisor Anthony Smith said budget projections that included Babeu’s proposal, in additional to a proposed 2.5 percent merit increase for county employees, would run a $21 million deficit next year that would continue to increase, depleting the county’s $49 million contingency fund by FY 2016.

“It’s unrealistic,” Smith said, reiterating the Board’s insistence on not raising property tax rates to increase county revenue.

Babeu told the Board his request, about a 20 percent budget increase, was not unreasonable. “If you do not address these issues, do not say that public safety is your priority,” Babeu said.

Babeu argued his office does not have the staffing nor the competitive pay of similar county and municipal law enforcement departments, introducing a “superstar” county K-9 deputy at the meeting who recently accepted a position at Chandler Police Department for better pay. Babeu said the adoption of 12-hour shifts has led to adequate levels of service despite strained resources.

To make his pitch, Babeu provided a study by the Segal Co., an analysis firm, which was presented by company senior vice-president Elliot Sussels.

The study concluded PCSO was understaffed by as many as 116 employees in relation to officer-per-population numbers from departments like Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Tempe Police. PCSO also was also paying officers and certain employees below-market wages compared to East Valley city police forces.

“You’re facing an issue of pay competitiveness,” Sussels said. “Your lack of competitiveness at entry is going to create significant impediment in order to recruit good folks.”

Chairman Steve Miller argued the municipal agencies had cut employee pay during the recession and was only now restoring pay levels, whereas Pinal only implemented a pay freeze during the downward recession years.

“You can say [county wages] not market,” he said, “but a lot of people come to work for places when it’s not just about money.”

As part of its pledge not to raise property taxes, the Board has been reviewing proposals from any County department heads requesting funds higher than last year’s budget.

These proposals are not actual budget expenditures or hiring, explained county manager Fritz Behring, but requests to be included in the preliminary budget to be placed before the Board in July.

Earlier in April, the Board approved above-budget preliminary proposals for $1.35 million from the county public defenders office and a $1.7 million request by the Superior Court. Both included additional positions and funds to offset costs anticipated by the restructuring of the county attorney’s office which aims to bring significantly more cases to trial.

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