Sheriff Joe’s Shenanigans Just Increased County Taxes; Will Republican Gray-Hairs Finally Catch a Clue? | Valley Fever | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona

Stephen Lemons Column

Sheriff Joe’s Shenanigans Just Increased County Taxes; Will Republican Gray-Hairs Finally Catch a Clue?

Let's talk about old white people, specifically the majority of old white people who live in Maricopa County. They are patriotic. They revere the flag. They vote. And they love — I mean love — Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio, who just turned 83, is like them, supposedly. He has grandkids...
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Let's talk about old white people, specifically the majority of old white people who live in Maricopa County.

They are patriotic. They revere the flag. They vote. And they love — I mean love — Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio, who just turned 83, is like them, supposedly. He has grandkids. He served in the U.S. Army (in France during the Korean War). He tells the same stories over and over again.

He can be charming, avuncular, crack jokes, clown around. He acts tough on crime, even if reality undermines that act.

I can hear it now:

"People die in his jails? Good! That's what lawbreakers deserve, isn't it?"

A federal judge has found him guilty of racial profiling, of rounding up the undocumented.

"So what if Hispanics were profiled?" ofay oldsters will say. "Look at the people coming here from Mexico. They're all brown. We're next to Mexico, not Canada. That's not Joe's fault."

The elderly are also cheap. They need to be. They're on fixed budgets.

Early-bird specials? Dagnabbit, they'll be there, chowing down on Grand Slam breakfasts before the price goes up a couple of bucks.

Old people own homes. They pay their taxes. And like most in the Grand Canyon State, they skew Republican, meaning they prefer their taxes low, if at all.

I don't mean to pick on senior citizens. Actually, I hope to be one someday.

And, as noted by the word "majority," not every person drawing Social Security is a Joe lover. Far from it.

One of the coolest people I know is former MCSO Deputy Donna Jones, who has been standing in opposition to Joe far longer than I've been in Arizona.

There are many others. But for every one of them, there seem to be two or three who have drunk Joe's hand-stirred Kool-Aid.

They don't pay much heed to anything in New Times. They just figure we're all Hispanic-hugging commies who want to tear down their hero.

Which is not true. At least not the commie part. See, we like money, capitalism, and are not too keen on paying taxes either.

So it may interest you alter kockers to know that your geriatric Superman has caused your property-tax bills to go up.

Indeed, a recent unanimous vote by the Board of Supervisors approved a final $2.2 billion budget that includes, according to a statement issued by the county, "an increase in primary property taxes of $20,843,449, or 4.6 percent."

The press release continues, stating:

"The proposed tax increase will cause Maricopa County's primary property taxes on a $100,000 home to increase from $130.07 to $136.09."

Six bucks. With which, if the county weren't swiping it from you, you could purchase a plate of delicious blueberry-muffin pancakes at Denny's, with a side order of two eggs and two strips of greasy bacon.

Now, why does the county have to increase property taxes? What's the need for this additional $21 million or so?

Well, one crater-size pothole that needs filling is the result of ongoing expenses in the federal civil rights case Melendres v. Arpaio.

That's the one in which Arpaio and his organization were found guilty of racial profiling by a federal judge — and ordered to stop, with a long list of requirements, including new training, dash cameras, and the cost of a court-appointed monitor team to implement it all.

The county's Fiscal Year 2016 budget appropriation for Melendres is $23.8 million, a figure that does not include legal fees.

So it's safe to say that if the county did not have to keep forking out dough on Melendres, it may have been able to meet its fiscal obligations without raising property taxes.

Ergo, your taxes are going up because of Arpaio's policies.

I should note, as I have in previous columns, that if you include the case's expenses and legal fees from its start in 2008 through the end of fiscal year 2016, Melendres has made a $51.3 million dent in the county's coffers.

And because this is not a lawsuit covered by the county's self-funding insurance policy (known as risk management), all this loot comes out of the county's general fund.

That money could have been used to improve court services, fulfill county obligations to employees, fix roads and buildings, or beef up health and educational services.

Or it could have been returned to you in the form of lower taxes.

Imagine that, Republicans! Especially those of you swept up in Joe's cult of personality.

Additionally, there is another, massive cavity in the county budget that would not exist, were it not for kindly ol' Grampa Joe.

In a letter that accompanied the 2016 tentative budget, County Manager Tom Manos described the gaping pit for supervisors.

"Approximately $19 million in this budget," he writes, "is going toward alleviating the structural imbalance in the Detention Fund with an infusion of funds from the General Fund."

This detention fund was created in 1998 when voters agreed to a fifth of a cent tax for making improvements in jail facilities and, they hoped, reducing the jail population.

You'll recall that a few years ago, the board discovered that the MCSO had raided the detention fund and another jail enhancement fund over a period of several years, diverting money to pay for some of Arpaio's pet projects.

Total misspent: $111 million.

By law, this money had to be repaid. Fortunately, a side account that the county's required to maintain was running a surplus.

About 75 percent of the money was repaid from this side account, while 25 percent of it was paid directly from the general fund.

The county insists that Arpaio's thievery did not result in the detention fund's structural deficit. And this may be correct.

However, if the county had not been required to pay back the money Joe swiped from the fund over the years, perhaps this fund's structural imbalance would not be so sizable, or exist at all.

Another fund in which there is a structural imbalance is, interestingly, the risk-management fund.

Risk management pays awards and settlements having to do with deaths in the jails and other claims where someone demands compensation from the county.

Since Arpaio took office over 22 years ago, MCSO's risk-management cases have cost the county more than $74.5 million.

When you add it up — $75 million here, $111 million there, etc. — you're looking at about $250 million, or a quarter-billion that Arpaio's malfeasance and unconstitutional activity has cost us since he ascended to power in 1993.

That's a lot of freaking Grand Slams at Denny's, folks.

Look, I get it: Many senior citizens identify with Arpaio.

He makes them feel safe and appreciated. They like his shuck and jive, his jail 'em and whale 'em philosophy of corrections, even his Archie Bunker-views on race relations.

But all that shtick comes with a price tag, which for Joe has become a blank check.

I once suggested a Joe Arpaio "sin tax" for those hopelessly addicted to the sheriff's malarkey.

Now we have one.

Sadly, it isn't just his worshipers who have to open up their wallets to cover Joe's ever-growing tab.

Email [email protected].

On Twitter @stephenlemons.

Valley Fever on Twitter: @ValleyFeverPHX.

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