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Final county, special district budgets approved

BISBEE —Taking a step into the unknown, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors gave final approval of the county’s and the special districts’ budgets for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Supervisors Tom Borer, Ann English and Peggy Judd voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the county budget totaling $187,842,969. This amount is composed of $84,675,999 for the General Fund and $103,166,970 in Special Revenue Funds. It reflects a decrease of almost $7 million from the 2019-2020 budget.

English noted, ”We are trying to avoid raising taxes. Our tax rates have not changed. Our valuations of property have increased which brings in more money. The public needs to understand we’re not raising their taxes.”

Budget manager Daniel Duchon had some good news as it appears the county will end the year in a better position than was predicted, at least as far as the half cent sales tax revenues. That alone has brought in $8.4 million over the past fiscal year, which ended June 30.

However, state–shared sales tax dropped more than anticipated, he said. State shared tax is two months behind, meaning what the county’s share will be for May and June have yet to be seen.

“April was not good for sales tax,” he added.

English emphasized, “Our people have to understand we’re working with the numbers we have today. If it changes negatively, we will have to look at cuts. If there’s no money coming in, we can’t spend it. Though we approved this final budget, it’s still almost as if it is tentative. All we can do is hope the revenues as estimated will come in.”

Borer maintained the supervisors, county officials and staff “have done their due diligence. We’ve dropped $7 million from the budget as compared to last year. But, the departments must be prepared to make adjustments.”

Flood Control DistrictControlling water runoff during the monsoon or any other heavy rain event is a problem the county deals with on a constant basis. The topography and soil types in the county create flooding events, which often lead to erosion and road damage.

It is hard to predict which planned projects will go from paper to ground, explained County Administrator Ed Gilligan. Some projects have been on the list for a decade.

“This year, the budget for flood control exceeds our revenues. Right now, it’s a deficit,” he said. “The cash carry forward may have to be used.”

Judd asked if the tax rate could be lowered since the district has a cash carry forward balance of $4.5 million.

Gilligan replied the supervisors could lower the tax rate, but by doing so could place the flood district in a negative position as cost for equipment and supplies continue to rise.

Then there are right of way acquisitions, engineering plans and construction costs. Often, road improvements can require unexpected additional work on flood control, he said.

“These costs can gobble up over $1 million very quickly,” he said. “You have to decide it’s an appropriate risk. We have to make sure we have sufficient funds to do the projects we have planned.”

At the current tax rate, a person with a home valued at $100,000 would pay an additional 58 cents, according to Duchon.

Library DistrictThe Library District budget did increase by $200,000 to $2.579,203, but it includes a $1.1 million contingency fund. The tax rate remained unchanged.

Light Improvement DistrictsThe Light Improvement Districts’ budgets are based on the number of lights in each district which varies and the fluctuations in power costs and maintenance, explained Gilligan.

English asked how people can add lights to their districts if they want more and Gilligan said the light improvement district would have to be expanded and the additional cost of installing the lights and poles and power lines would be spread among the whole district if the voters approved the expansion.

He also said cost could be contingent on the availability of power on the existing grid servicing the area. If the grid needed boosting, those costs could be passed along through the levy to everyone in the district as well.

Police chief addresses City Council on deadly force policies

SIERRA VISTA — The Sierra Vista Police Department will not stop using the techniques necessary to save an officer, or another person’s life, if either is in danger, Chief Adam Thrasher told the City Council at a work session Tuesday.

But Thrasher said his officers are also taught to do everything they can to de-escalate a situation before it goes awry.

The chief also told council members that there would be additions to the department’s policy to include the U.S. Department of Justice’s definition of de-escalation, and officers’ duty to intervene if they see another officer violating an individual’s constitutional rights.

And while Thrasher told the City Council that 98 percent of his officers’ work involves “officer presence and verbal persuasion,” he also said the department will not eliminate the policies that are authorized only when an officer’s life, or the life of another individual, are in danger.

“It is my belief that you don’t take any tools away from anybody whose life is in danger,” Thrasher told council members.

The chief’s presentation included three topics: justification for use of force, accreditation standards for the department and the agency’s actual policy on use of force, which is referred to as “subject management.”

The work session to address the police department’s use of force policy was sparked by Councilwoman Kristine Wolfe’s comments at a previous work session in June. At the time, Wolfe stated that she disagreed with police use of “chokeholds, knees holds, and shooting at moving cars.”

Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers that sparked global protests against police brutality, Wolfe sent Thrasher a council inquiry concerning the Sierra Vista Police Department’s policies — specifically a de-escalation policy — and “whether recruits are trained on de-escalation procedures, how long is the training, and if the policy — if one exists — is given to recruits.”

While the procedures mentioned by Wolfe are not banned by the Sierra Vista Police Department, Thrasher said they are only authorized if “the life of an officer or a third party are in danger.”

Additionally, Thrasher informed the Council on Tuesday that his agency does not have knee holds, nor does any other law enforcement agency that he knows of. The Minneapolis policeman accused of killing Floyd placed his knee on Floyd’s neck, cutting off his oxygen. Three other officers witnessed the incident and none of them intervened on Floyd’s behalf.

The policy Thrasher referred to at the work session Tuesday describes neck restraints known as chokeholds and carotid control technique. The former affects the respiratory and the latter is vascular, the policy shows.

While he recently explained to Wolfe in his response that the procedures she disagrees with are used only in “deadly force situations,” Thrasher also said, “SVPD believes banning this technique in situations when officers face potential death or serious physical injury places them in undue risk.”

Regardless, Wolfe said at the June 9 work session that, “...The use of chokeholds and knee holds, I’m willing to listen to more on that, but I think it’s something as a policy that we don’t like and we don’t agree with.”

“And I would also agree and say that we should discuss the policy of being able to shoot at moving vehicles — I don’t think we should (shoot at moving vehicles,)” Wolfe said. “And this is something I think we should discuss as a council, as a policy issue.”

Tuesday’s work session, which was well-attended by the public even though seating was arranged to provide social distancing, also elicited comments by Anthony Isom, president of the Greater Huachuca Area NAACP.

Isom said many of the tenets in the police department’s policy are in agreement with the NAACP’s beliefs. But Isom also suggested that the city appoint a citizen review board that would keep police accountable for their actions. Such boards — common in many larger cities across the U.S. — review complaints brought by the community about law enforcement agencies.

The idea of a citizen review board surfaced last month at a law enforcement forum that was hosted by Isom via ZOOM. Thrasher attended the session, as did Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels and others in the law enforcement and judicial community.

When Isom asked the panel about the possibility of creating citizen review boards, the idea wasn’t embraced.

At that meeting, Dannels, Thrasher, Huachuca City Police Chief Jim Thies, Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre and others agreed that municipalities that have such panels are dealing with more incidents between police and the community.

At Tuesday’s work session, Mayor Rick Mueller said “this community is different from others.”

Mueller expounded on his comment, saying he had lived in Minneapolis and other large cities. He said Sierra Vista, “has an excellent police department, we don’t have racial strife, and we discuss things before they get out of hand.”

Thrasher agreed, saying Sierra Vista Police is “the epitome of community policing.”

Councilwoman Gwen Calhoun meanwhile, said she would like to have another meeting where community review boards, racial equity and citizens’ trust in the police are discussed.