Less than a week after asking for, and receiving, an increase to his already large salary, Pima County Chuck Huckelberry is only now bringing attention to a deficit facing the County. The timing of Huckelberry’s media push also coincides with the arrival of newly-elected Sheriff Mark Napier.
Napier inherits a problem that was not discussed during the 2016 General Election, but was surely anticipated by the County. There was little opportunity to discuss it due to the fact that then-Sheriff Chris Nanos refused to participate in any public forums. Had he, the public might have discovered that despite the fact that the County should have foreseen an increase employer contribution rates for its public safety and corrections employees.
Huckelberry failed to budget for the much anticipated increase, and Nanos refused to make cuts to his top-heavy administration.
Supervisor Ally Miller raised the issue during budget hearings last year. Because nearly everyone knew there was an issue with the PSPRS, Miller asked Huckelberry and Deputy Administrator Tom Burke about it. When she asked Burke if there was a percentage funded that the County should be at, he stated there was no rule of thumb in terms of percentage funded. Miller stated we needed to be aware that this was going to be an issue. Apparently Huckelberry and Burke have finally arrived at the secret number.
Miller says she would like to see the Board actually roll up their sleeves and find the money to cover this in the existing budget without raising property taxes.
“Huckelberry will likely utilize his “go to solution” which is simply piling a tax increase on the backs of taxpayers vs. making appropriate spending cuts to make up for the shortfall,” stated Miller. “We all knew this was coming last year and the fact that we are here at the 11th hour as if this shortfall is a surprise illustrates the lack of planning by the County Administrator. It begs the question as to why Huckelberry was rewarded with another large pay raise at the last board meeting.”
Miller continued, “I certainly didn’t support it. I do hope we get serious in terms of cutting the budget this year. I brought this issue of the underfunding of PSPRS to the attention of the Board during the budget hearings last year. I had researched the PSPRS and it was clear there was going to be a shortfall a year ago. It is inexcusable that this situation was ignored until now. Unfortunately this funding problem that should have been dealt with during last year’s budget hearings will be served up in crisis mode to incoming Sheriff Napier. Taxpayers deserve better.”
In November 2016, the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) Board of Trustees announced that it had received the June 30, 2016, actuarial results which would raise 2018 fiscal year employer contribution rates for retirement plans for the public safety and corrections employees. According to the PSPRS, “Effective July 1, 2017, the aggregate PSPRS employer contribution rate will rise 9.48 percentage points to 52.09 percent, which reflects immediate actuarial changes caused primarily by Prop 124 and a 2015 reduction of the assumed earnings rate. The aggregate PSPRS funding level decreased 3.0 percentage points to 46 percent.
Now that he has his raise in place, and his continued control of the Board of Supervisors is certain, Huckelberry will turn to voters for a tax increase in order to raise the money needed to fill the deficit.
Kevin Kubitskey, chairman of the Pima County Deputy Sheriffs Association stated, “When you see Mr. Chuck Huckleberry’s antics; starting with his pay increase, incentives, and severance package, all of which were ridiculous to the public and the Board of Supervisors’ constituents and his personal attack on the Pima County Sheriff’s Department’s SWAT team, for being present at the swearing in of Sheriff Napier, you realize he has nothing but disdain for the public and their law enforcement officers.”
In a show of contempt for the officers, who generally supported Napier over Nanos in the General Election, Huckelberry docked the pay of the SWAT members in attendance at the swearing-in.
Kubitskey questions Huckelberry’s repeated claims that the Sheriff’s department has not been underfunded by the supervisors at the direction of Huckelberry. “Huckleberry told the Arizona Daily Star that the county has not underfunded the Sheriff’s Department. I would challenge his facts,” said Kubitskey.
“It was clear upon Sheriff Napier taking over, his transparency that the deficit came from none other than Chris Nanos and his emotional spending, which has in turn affected us all. The Association believes that Mr. Huckleberry was fully aware of this and still moved forward with a vote on his pay package for himself. As the Association president, and having been a member of the Department for 18 years, I can recall several times over the last 10 years that we have not come in on budget and the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department have had to tighten their belts by limiting overtime, or use overtime as flextime time. Both of which are never a benefit for the community. The crucial part of all of that is the fact that Mr. Huckleberry fails to mention that in eight of those ten years he advertised a step pay plan which held the promise that deputies would see regular pay increases,” continued Kubitskey.
“The deficit comes from a lack of understanding as to what it takes to run a business and the law enforcement community. This is one of those areas that Mr. Huckleberry has ignored for far too long. The Board of Supervisors’ constituents are aware and watching, and at some point, Huckelberry is going to have to acknowledge his part in the deficit,” concluded Kubitskey.
Huckleberry claimed in his memo that they had only recently received notice by the Arizona State retirement system regarding the change contribution rates for fiscal year 2017. He wrote in a memo:
The increase for the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) where most of our deputies are covered is increasing by 10.71 percent to a total salary contribution of 67.16 percent for deputies hired prior to January 1, 2015. For correction officers, the County will contribute an additional 2.43 percent; for probation officers 2.46 percent; and for the County Attorney investigators an additional 18.18 percent.
The largest single financial impact for these rates will be for the Sheriff, creating an additional unbudgeted expense of approximately $3.2 million in addition to the $16.5 million the County already pays for deputies. Adding this to the correction officer increase ($551,000) means 88 percent of the total cost increase for retirement plans is incurred by the Sheriff’s Department. This is an unbudgeted expense increase and must be accommodated in next year’s budget through a tax increase or cost shifts from other programs.”
In September 2015, the Arizona Auditor General released a report on the PSPRS’s three defined benefit plans, in which it revealed that its inability to meet future retirement obligations is “deteriorating because of required annual permanent benefit increases and lower-than-expected investment returns.” The Auditor General found that sustainability could improve but “will require statutory and may require constitutional changes.”
“The System manages three different defined benefit retirement plans that provide a guaranteed life-long pension benefit: the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System plan (PSPRS plan), the Corrections Officer Retirement Plan (CORP), and the Elected Officials’ Retirement Plan (EORP). As of June 30, 2014, 282 employers participated in these plans, and there were nearly 55,000 members,” according to the report.
Voters approved Proposition 124 in May of 2016.
In his op-ed, Don’t Confuse Prop 124 With A Lasting Solution, Tom Patterson wrote that Prop 124, “addresses the looming crisis by reducing the cost-of-living increases (COLAs) in PSPRS. Under current law, PSPRS pensioners have received 4% annual increases over the last two decades.”
Under Proposition 124 COLAs are based on a local inflation adjustment and capped at 2% per year, according to Patterson.
For his part, Napier is confident he and his team can handle whatever comes their way. “We are looking at all areas of the Department to determine where cuts, consolidation and reductions can be made,” stated Napier. “We will work very hard to ensure that these steps have no impact on service delivery. There are a lot of great people at PCSD (Pima County Sheriff’s Department) who understand the challenges and are ready to face them.”