PHOENIX - Maricopa County, Ariz. is mulling final approval of a $2.49 billion budget that would make substantial investments in public infrastructure.

The County Board of Supervisors is set for a final vote on the tentative fiscal year 2018 budget June 19.

Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and is by far the most populous in Arizona, was reported by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this year to have displaced Harris County, Tex. as the nation’s fastest-growing. Supervisors, who voted unanimously to approve the tentative budget, cited the county’s explosive growth in the need to make investments, particularly in a nearly $83 million new jail and $37 million county attorney’s office.

Phoenix, Arizona
Funding for a jail and the county attorney's office are features of the proposed Maricopa County, Ariz. budget. Adobe Stock

“As the population increases, so does the need for well-staffed law enforcement agencies and faster systems of administering justice,” said Denny Barney, the board chairman. “More than 53% of the FY 2018 budget is allocated for public safety and criminal justice.”

“Maricopa is the fastest-growing county in the U.S. for a reason,” said Supervisor Steve Chucri. “This budget makes smart investments in infrastructure and public safety to ensure that our growth continues to be advantageous for families and industry.”

Maricopa County has not issued general obligation bonds in over a decade, but does issue some short-term debt as well as some special financing district debt. The Stadium District, for example, has some $12 million of debt outstanding related to the financing of Chase Field, home to the Arizona Diamondbacks Major League Baseball team. The county has a triple-A issuer default rating, and issued almost $200 million of highly-rated certificates of participation two years ago.

After the $1.34 billion public safety portion of the budget, the next largest chunks of proposed spending are $531 million of health and sanitation, $359 million of miscellaneous expenditures, and $210 million for highways and streets.

The Board said that crafting a balanced budget without increasing taxes was challenging, in part due to a number of costs outside the county’s control. The county owes some $22 million to the state as part of a cost-shift agreed to during the great recession, and more than $8 million in employee pension contributions. The county is also on the hook for about $26 million in court-ordered costs related to a class-action lawsuit against the Sheriff’s office.

“These costs are not within our control,” said Supervisor Steve Gallardo, speaking about the federal court judgments. “We have thrown millions of dollars at court ordered law enforcement changes because we are committed to reaching compliance. Every district has needs and we hope by tackling these required expenses we will free up money for future projects.”

The public is able to comment on the proposed budget up until its final adoption.

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