|Supervisor Craig Brown reacts during Tuesday’s budget session. He claims the budget process is “broken.”|
Photo courtesy Scott Orr/The Daily Courier
PRESCOTT - From the start of Tuesday's budget session of the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, it was clear that it would be a contentious meeting.
Supervisor Craig Brown ex-pressed frustration with the entire way the budget was created.
"This process is broken," he said, to a meeting room full of county department heads. "We have no idea what we're looking at."
The board, he continued, is left to rely on "the goodwill of the people who work for us. I trust in that; I have to. But there are a lot of questions here and not many answers."
The board grilled several department heads about their numbers. Coming in for the harshest scrutiny was the assessor, whose budget listed $42,000 for travel expenses, among other things. Chief Deputy Assessor Ron Gibbs told the board that only $19,300 was for travel directly related to licensing requirements.
"I would be comfortable approving" those items, but not the others, Chairman Chip Davis said.
Supervisor Rowle Simmons echoed Brown's concerns about the lack of specificity. "Frankly, I am a little disappointed that you didn't bring something to the table," he said. "Your arguments were a little weak. I kept hearing, 'We would like,' and 'This would help.'"
As an example, he asked how much the department needed training for a high-level appraiser who could testify in court. "How much of that happens? Number two, are you not able to hire someone... for a specific incident, like a subcontractor?"
Gibbs said they could do that, but the price could be prohibitive.
When Gibbs said the assessor's office would return funds it did not spend, Brown rolled his eyes, but said nothing. That's been one of his pet peeves: departments that request money they know they're not likely to spend.
"It can't be easy to have three brand-new board members that have done budgets in totally different realms," Smith said. He put his budgeting background to work in the past couple of weeks, and generated a 38-page budget for the county that saves $8 million dollars, which would more than cover the anticipated $5 million shortfall.
He did it, he said, by applying his own advice to "sharpen the pencils" and trim the line items.
"I said, 'What was the actual (amount spent) from last year?' and then I added three percent," Smith said. "Look at your line items - it's not a savings account, it's a budget."
Another issue for both Brown and Smith was the fact that nothing keeps money allotted for one line item from being spent on another.
"It's not about a bottom-line number," Smith said. "Anyone can walk in and say, 'I want $5 million.'"
"I want to see the departments come to us and tell us what they've done," Brown said. Once a department does that, then if they want an increase, "I want someone to tell me what that increase is for, before we're sitting in front of an audience."
County Administrator Phil Bourdon attributed the trouble to a lack of understanding of what this board wants to see. He said repeatedly that he would go back to the department heads and explain what they need to do differently next year.
The board will address the budget again after its regular meeting on June 3.