Council Begins 2018-19 Balanced Budget Discussions

Proposal to eliminate Health/Human Services funds stuns some members

At their work session on Monday, April 30, the Apache Junction City Council began discussions on the proposed 2018-2019 balanced budget submitted by City Manager Bryant Powell.

The annual effort by the city’s staff and the professional manner in which the budget is prepared rarely results in controversy of any kind. Most of the Council are well-acquainted with their role in reviewing and commenting on the proposed document, but first-term Councilman Jeff Struble decided that this year, he would like to assert his own philosophy into the discussion.

Included in City Manager Powell’s  presentation were projections and estimates of future revenue based on the overall economy.

The National Gross Domestic Product is estimated to grow 2.5%; the state estimates a revenue growth of 3.1%; the city’s budget committee estimates revenue growth at 3%; making net new revenue approximately $1.1 million.

Some new expenditures included in the budget are the mandated retirement adjustment to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System and Arizona State Retirement System, as well as a 2.5% step increase to all career status employees. Parks and Recreation have requested Aquatic Center pool re-plastering and Public Works would like to add a second household hazardous waste event. The city wants to add one new position in Geographical Information Systems, and there are plans to add city vehicles through the fleet financing program.

Also included in the presentation were slides from Finance Director Donna Meinerts reminding the council and audience that the city has no property tax and is dependent on sales tax and state shared revenues. As an example, she said that on a $10 purchase, $.56 goes to state sales tax, $.11 to county sales tax, $.05 to the newly approved Regional Transportation Authority and $.24 to city sales tax. In total, 47% of the city revenue comes from sales tax.

As part of the budget discussion, Councilman Struble proposed removing $80,000 budgeted for Health and Human Services and, instead, distributing most of the funds into Police Department and Parks and Rec. projects.

Each year, the Health and Human Services Commission conducts public hearings to determine the needs of residents, including their health and care for the elderly, handicapped and developmentally disabled. In the next few weeks, the Council is scheduled to hear a presentation from the Commission on 2018-19 contract proposals.

Councilman Struble said that he considers giving taxpayer dollars to non-profit organizations supported by the Health and Human Services Commission as “redistribution” that builds “dependency.”

Mayor Jeff Serdy and members of the council were surprised by Struble’s proposal and were not prepared to debate the role of government with him. “We’re blindsided by this proposal,” Serdy said.

Struble persisted, saying, “Government is only here to do things that citizens can’t do for themselves.” He said that non-profits are capable of raising their own funds and benefit from tax-exempt status.

“I’m appalled,” said Councilwoman Robin Barker. “We are helping to fund service agencies, we are feeding people, getting them off the streets. To say that we, as a government, don’t have some obligation to do this is a shame.”

Other members of the council agreed that the proposal from Struble was too provocative to have been sprung on them in this manner. City Attorney Joel Stern said that Stuble’s budget proposal was indeed allowed as part of the discussion and that he can offer it as an amendment to the tentative budget.

The council will vote on the tentative budget at a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 14, 2018, and on the final budget on Monday, June 19, 2018. The tentative budget will be on the city website, AJCity.net, prior to the May 14 meeting.

City Council meetings are open to the public and held in chambers at 300 E. Superstition Blvd. in Apache Junction. The meetings begin at 7:00 p.m. Complete agendas and supporting materials are available at https://apachejunction.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx.

Photo above: Charts provided at the budget proposal presentation show projected Revenues and how they would be distributed in the General Fund during the next fiscal year.

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