Chucri: A look at the 2015 budget - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

Chucri: A look at the 2015 budget

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Posted: Monday, July 7, 2014 10:53 am

Ben Franklin once said. “If you fail to plan, then you’re planning to fail.” He wasn’t talking about government, but the wisdom applies.

That’s why, before the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors made a single decision on the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, we launched a difficult yet rewarding strategic planning process. We wanted a fresh look at who and what we are in county government. What we do and why. And how well.

It could have been a closed, comfortable process, involving the five elected supervisors and top county management. Instead, we invited all elected county officials to weigh in: the sheriff, county attorney, the Superior Court, the justice courts and department heads, believing that the collective “we” working together would produce the best result.

In the end, we were rewarded with a set of core principles, values, priorities, goals and clear targets that will direct our work for years. You can read more at www.maricopa.gov/StrategicPlan/.

Our recently adopted $2.2 billion budget reflects our strategic priorities in several ways:

• Safe Communities. Over 50 percent of the total budget is dedicated to law enforcement, detention and criminal justice. Public safety is — and needs to be — our top priority. The new budget adds key personnel on the front line, detention officers, probation officers and courts.

But our budget also reflects the complexity of the criminal justice system. Underfunding one element — the courts or public defense — will affect all the rest.

For example, County Attorney Bill Montgomery argues that not paying experienced prosecutors with market-rate salaries is both foolish and dangerous. Experienced attorneys are more productive and efficient. The little we save in attorney salaries we lose far more in court costs, detention costs, victims’ services and public safety. Criminal justice is an inter-connected system.

• Fiscal Strength. Maricopa County doesn’t write budgets in red ink or wearing rose-colored glasses. We don’t hope for revenues that might not materialize. We prioritize our needs, just like a well-run business. Our property tax rates are among the lowest in the state and lowest nationally among large urban counties. We have a Triple A bond rating. We aim to keep it.

So we don’t go around looking for new ways to spend money. We fund our needs, not our wants, and 93 percent of all our expenditures go to those services required by state law, the Constitution or the courts. Thus, the second-highest budget expense is health care costs mandated by the state: long-term care, acute care, public health and behavioral health.

• Government Operations. Even though the economy is slowly recovering and home values are rising, we remain focused on fiscal restraint. We must improve our operations relentlessly and constantly, making them more efficient and transparent. Our regulatory reform initiative is designed to enhance public safety but fashion common-sense regulations that are convenient and customer-friendly.

Our government should also be transparent and open, engaged with citizens, who deserve to know how we’re spending their dollars. That’s another strategic priority. For a closer look at the 2014-15 budget, visit www.maricopa.gov.

• Steve Chucri is a Mesa resident and a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors from District 2.

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