The next time the Mohave County Board of Supervisors sits down to approve a budget they will be presented with a list of mandated vs. non-mandated services from each department. Supervisor Buster Johnson brought a proposal before the Board to approve a zero based budgeting strategy for future budgets. According to Johnson, a zero base budget plan would have started each department with a zero dollar budget and forced them to prove why they needed taxpayer money for every line item they were requesting. “During times of growth government has a tendency to expand beyond what it was put in place to do,” Supervisor Buster Johnson stated. “These programs then become a part of government that continues to be funded as if they were mandated. We have asked our departments to cut budgets again this year and if there are programs we are funding that are not mandated we should look at their elimination before cutting back on mandated services,” Johnson continued.
A true zero based budget is what many counties around the country are going too. Maricopa County was the largest county in Arizona to recently go to zero based budgeting resulting in a reduced budget while saving enough to increase public safety and mandated services. In comparison to zero based budgeting, traditional incremental budgeting requires departmental managers to justify only variances versus past years based on the assumption that the “baseline” is automatically approved. By contrast, in zero-based budgeting, every line item of the budget must be approved, rather than only changes. “Zero-based budgeting requires that the budget request be re-evaluated thoroughly,” Johnson said.
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors did not approve a true zero based budgeting strategy, but are asking every department to give them a list of their mandated vs. non mandated services that are in their budget. “While I am for a true zero based budgeting strategy, some of the other Supervisors along with our Financial Director felt that it would cost too many man hours and too much money to accomplish,” Johnson explained. “In 2008 we authorized 1450 positions. This year we are down to 1094, a reduction of 356 employees. We are cutting services to our taxpayers, yet we are increasing our budget to pay for unnecessary expenses. So I presented the alternative of at least seeing what services each department is required by law to have, and what services are not required. This way we can begin to budget next year accordingly,” Johnson continued.
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors faced a roughly $3.9 million short fall during this year’s budget, and Supervisor Johnson expects next year to be the same. “We have to make changes,” Supervisor Johnson said. “Next year the County will be forced to make some tough choices, and by approving the proposal of looking at mandated vs non-mandates services we are at least looking in the right direction,” Johnson ended.