Arpaio Costs County More Than $44 Million in Melendres Expenses

Sheriff Joe Arpaio's racial profiling ways are making a serious dent in Maricopa County's budget, to the tune of $44.5 million, and counting.

Maricopa County's fiscal year 2016 budget, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors on Monday, allocates $23.8 million for costs associated with complying with a federal court's orders in the civil rights lawsuit Melendres v. Arpaio.

Federal Judge G. Murray Snow ruled against Arpaio in 2013 and later ordered a series of reforms for the sheriff's office, appointing a monitor to oversee them. Snow's rulings were later upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to a slideshow presentation given by budget officials to the supervisors on Monday, the county spent $3.7 million in 2014 on Melendres compliance and anticipates spending $17 million in FY 2015 by the time the county's fiscal year ends June 30.

Which means, unless the current numbers are revised, the FY 2016 budget will bring the county to a total of $44.5 million allocated for Melendres.

The budget presentation notes that these numbers do not include legal costs.

I reported in April that legal costs in Melendres and U.S. v. Maricopa County, the civil rights lawsuit brought against the MCSO by the U.S. Department of Justice, were up to a total of $14.2 million, of which, about $6.8 million was from attorneys' billings in Melendres.

Interestingly, as KJZZ recently reported, the county's FY 2016 adopted budget increased one percent over last year's adopted budget, by around...$23 million. But it may not be fair to say the budget increased due to Joe.

Much of the $23.8 million increase in 2016 on spending for Melendres is due to reallocating 24 positions in the sheriff's office to deal with compliance issues regarding the case.

But at the very least, it's a diversion of resources that did not have to happen. 

Under the heading "Major Budget Challenges," the slideshow states that, "Melendres cost increases are difficult to fund or predict."

They certainly are, especially when both the sheriff and his chief deputy have admitted that they defied the court's orders in Melendres.
As part of Arpaio's proposed settlement in Melendres, he and his Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan suggested that the county fund a $350,000 kitty to pay for any claims arising from Arpaio and Sheridan's defiance of the court's orders.

Judge Snow has observed that $350,000 may just be a start, since all of those affected by Sheridan's and Arpaio's contemptuous conduct have yet to be identified.

Moreover, during a recent status conference in Melendres, Snow wondered how the MCSO could waste so much money on its Seattle adventure with alleged computer guru Dennis Montgomery, when the MCSO was nowhere near complete compliance with his injunction..

"The court notes that of the monitor's last report, the MCSO was only 29 percent in compliance with the injunctive order entered here a year and a half ago," Snow said, while admonishing Sheridan and Arpaio. "[That's] approximately the same time as this Seattle operation began."
The MCSO will have to be in full compliance for at least three years before it is released from Snow's order.

Which means the county will continue to bleed red from the MCSO. We don't even know the total cost of the Seattle investigation, though my sources suggest it could run as much as $1 million. 

The Seattle operation was paid for with RICO funds. The cost of footing the bill for Melendres comes right out of the county's general fund. None of it is covered by the county's risk management pool of money, a form of self-insurance.

And yet, the Republican majority on the BOS have their mouths shut tighter than a Scotsman's wallet.

The vote on the county's $2.2 billion budget for FY 2016, which includes Arpaio's red ink? Unanimous, natch.

However, the sole Democrat on the board, District 5 Supervisor Steve Gallardo, issued the following statement:
If we look at the sheriff’s budget and at the costs of the Melendres’ case, we see $40 million will be spent in these two years to pay for this judgment. That is money that could have been used for additional county services for our taxpayers and paying a competitive wage for our dedicated employees.

$40 million can go a long way for the County to address critical needs; such as Southeast and West locations for Animal Care and Control; Emergency Operations Center; completion of our Jail Master Plan and the crime lab. If we could fund these items it would be a tremendous benefit to our citizens or even better, a reduction in their tax rates.

However, due to the misdeeds and ignoring of civil rights by one individual, the County finds itself paying $40 million in court compliance. As a board, we have been put in a very difficult position which impacts the folks of Maricopa County.

Spoken like a true fiscal conservative, the kind Gallardo's colleagues claim to be.

E-mail: [email protected].
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons