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Maricopa County Makes $33 Million in Fresh Budget Cuts; Phone Waits to Lengthen, Clinic to Close

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Maricopa County will close a family planning clinic, put off non-crucial building maintenance, reduce cleaning services and make other changes because of a $32.6 million budget cut.

Revenues are coming in even slower than expected, forcing the Board of Supervisors to approve the latest cuts and eliciting hard-nosed promises by officials that more cuts are coming.

One of the areas being cut you're likely to notice: The county's already poor telephone service. In a news release, (reprinted below), county officials warn people calling the county to expect longer waits on hold and more busy signals. We've expressed frustration in the past with the county's absurd, non-customer-friendly phone system -- guess those concerns won't be fixed anytime soon.

Interestingly, the county's elected officials get praise from one Supervisor, Fulton Brock (above), for their excellent work in trimming their respective department budgets. It wasn't too long ago that the county was screaming bloody murder over the obstinate attitude toward budget cuts of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Treasurer Doug Hoskins. Brock's comment almost makes it seem like a cease-fire has been declared. But we know better.

Scroll down to read the county's news release:

Maricopa County Supervisors trim $32.6 million; More cuts to come

March 17, 2009

Facing slipping revenue projections for the upcoming fiscal year, Maricopa County supervisors have sliced another $32.6 million from county operations, with more to come. County agencies from Animal Care and Control to health care clinics have agreed to budget reductions for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"Nobody is happy about this but our revenues are declining," commented Max Wilson, board chairman. "By spreading this out over many agencies, everybody will share in this."

The unanimous 5-0 vote Monday came after board members heard a series of gloomy budget presentations outlining "unprecedented declines" in sales tax revenues so far in the current fiscal year. "The trend is not very good and we don't see a turnaround as of yet," according to Deputy Budget Director Chris Bradley.

Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson, who heads the Office of Management and Budget, said her department has reached agreement with over half of the county agencies on spending reductions. The cuts averaged more than 15 percent of the agency budgets. "The departments have done a good job in restructuring their operations and becoming more efficient," she said. County officials said most of the cuts will be achieved by eliminating vacant positions, reducing administration and identifying other efficiencies.

However, county residents might face busy signals and longer waits on the telephone as a result of some reductions. Maintenance projects and renovations to public buildings will be postponed and janitorial and window cleaning services will also be reduced. One family planning clinic will be closed and public health officials will try to find patients other options.

Supervisors were encouraged by the reductions process. "The elected officials and the department heads have not only reduced their budgets this year, but have made budget reductions over the past few years," commented Supervisor Fulton Brock. "They are not just cutting jobs and services, they are finding more efficient ways to deliver services."

Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox echoed that sentiment. "If anybody thought that the county had escaped the pain of this downturn, they can look at today's action," she said. "Some of these cuts go to the core programs, health, elections, the assessor's office, even to the call center."

This will not be the last of the cuts to the estimated $1.16 billion general fund budget, officials said. Another $25.2 million reduction package is slated for board review later this month. And the budget still might be affected as state lawmakers search for ways to balance the state budget. For example, legislators considered transferring some state prisoners to county jails last year and that proposal could resurface. "We have the capacity to make more cuts," Sandi Wilson said. "But the inmate shift would be devastating, $60 million. We have to fight that."

Bradley said sales, vehicle license and highway user taxes are all coming in lower than previously forecasted.

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