MOHAVE COUNTY – Two top legal authorities have indicated that public safety interests and the justice system will suffer if the Mohave County Board of Supervisors (BOS) follows through with contemplated across the board general fund budget cuts of 18%. Presiding Superior Court Judge Steve Moss and Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith have submitted reports to County Manager Sam Elters offering dismal assessment of implementation of cost cutting measures.
“The BOS’s recent action has already negatively impacted our office morale, recently contributed to the exit of an experienced prosecutor and cast a cloud of uncertainty for attorney prospects,” Smith wrote on Sept. 8. “Should the BOS move forward to reduce the MCAO budget by any amount, and especially 18%, the BOS will effectively defund law enforcement and severely impact public safety.”
Smith and Moss, like other elected and appointed department heads, are reporting back to management how they might approach the severe spending directive, while opposing it.
“Cutting the support the court receives from the general fund by 18% would impair court operations and run afoul of the county’s constitutional obligation to support the courts,” Moss wrote Sept. 8. Moss told Elters that Court operations are cost effective and efficient, and that significant spending reduction can only occur by cutting staff and service to citizens.
The 3-2 BOS vote directing staff to assess budget cuts on Aug. 21 followed Finance Director Luke Mournian’s assessment last month that an 18% across the board spending reduction would be needed to avert an $18.5-million deficit projected by next summer. Supervisors in previous months could not agree to raise the primary property tax or implement a sales tax.
Moss suggests Mohave County residents enjoy favorable tax rates compared to those living in other Arizona counties. Moss believes Mohave County has a revenue rather than a spending problem.
“Mohave County operates with only a property tax as a revenue source, and has repeatedly declined to enact a sales tax,” Moss said. “The low tax rate, combined with the needs of the county given its population and geographic area has resulted in a strain on the county’s financial resources.”
Smith said his office needs more, not less money.
“I request the BOS consider how it may increase the MCAO budget by at least 10% in the coming fiscal year as my office needs to retain and recruit prosecutors,” Smith said.
Elters said he and Mournian are compiling what’s been submitted by various departments and packaging the information into an Executive Summary backed up with detail. He said the report will be forwarded to supervisors by the close of business Sept. 13, providing a full week for review before the Board’s Sept. 20 budget workshop.
Elters said the report to the Board will not include administrative recommendation, but will simply relay staff input regarding a possible 18% cut.
“We do not intend to refine it, rephrase it or adjust it in any way,” Elters said. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of the report, but in a nutshell the picture is bleak and cuts in personnel and services have to be implemented and included to achieve that level of cut.”