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Our View: County’s budget story has changed a lot in 12 months

May 22, 2018 GMT

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, Mohave County officials were telling anyone who would listen that the sky was falling. And from many perspectives, it was: The budget year began with a $2.8 million deficit that required several departmental sweeps to bring things into balance.

Things were looking so bad that supervisors floated the idea of pretty sizable property tax and sales tax increases — terrible ideas that were quietly abandoned when it became apparent they wouldn’t generate enough votes to pass.

Instead, supervisors dipped into reserve funds in an effort to balance their budget without reducing spending.

In retrospect, it was a great decision. The proposed property tax increase wasn’t ever necessary. Property values were already rising, which meant revenues were on a natural path to growth.

Indeed, this year’s proposed $88 million general fund budget, significantly more than the one that came before it, is buoyed by higher revenues and restored state funding, among other positive developments.

Yes, things appear to be much more rosy in Kingman. Taxpayers need not worry about any tax increases — at least for now. The improving economy came to their rescue. What that means, however, is that supervisors didn’t have to deal with hard realities that have plagued Mohave County for years because of overspending and poor planning.

Oh, there’s been some improvement on that front, such as a decision to avoid filling vacant staff positions, but the county continues to spend money on things it doesn’t need. One recent example is the sheriff’s department, which was allowed to make six-figure purchases for equipment such as gun suppressors for deputies and security scanners at the Mohave County Jail. The sheriff asked the supervisors for permission to make the purchases after discovering he didn’t need money intended to solve salary issues. There’s some disagreement about whether those purchases were necessary, and we agree that it’s hard to justify such capricious spending when the money was originally taken from other areas of the budget to address a specific need. If the money wasn’t needed after all, it should have been restored. Large capital expenses like gun and security equipment shouldn’t be last-minute requests. They should be planned and budgeted for, not spent in a harried use-it-or-lose it mindset that’s so typical of government bureaucracy.

Nevertheless, we applaud the county administration for putting forth a balanced budget this year. Elected officials appear to be working in sync better than ever before, and frugality, in most cases, seems to be the guiding principle.

We hope this attitude continues at the county, but common sense should tell you that it’s important to plan for a future when things aren’t so bright.

Despite a sunny outlook, the county needs to continue being cautious in it spending so that it can restore its contingency funds, which were cut from $5 million to $2 million in Mohave County’s great balancing act. Otherwise, we could be repeating this conversation when the economy cycles down again.

— Today’s News-Herald