Thoughts about the county budget,
with special consideration toward
dumping the building code in rural areas

Below are three items that were sent to county Board Of Supervisors Chairman Ann English for her to print and distribute (per her offer to do so) to the other supervisors at the work session on March 16, 2009.


Bill Jakobek passed this on to Supervisor English for distribution to the other supervisors:

For What It's Worth:  As with any sane company that faces a drop in revenues, the county should cut losing expensive unneeded "services."  That means dropping the Planning and Zoning, and expecially the money losing and unnecessary Building Inspection and permitting Department.  Never has there been a less needed and unwanted expensive "service" foisted on a community in need of so many other things.  It's time for it to go


Dick McMains, of Sierra Vista, has the following thoughts on the county budget:

Considerations for the Cochise County Budget

1. Focus on PUBLIC requirements in a priority order. Such as the Sheriff’s Department and Roads and Highways and other of those county elements which apply to all of the public in general.

2. Review County Departments and eliminate those elements which do not support the public in general.

A. For example, county construction growth can be effectively controlled through zoning requirements. Building inspection, which encompasses other than projects which benefit the public in general, is unlikely to bring about any effective purpose for County taxpayers. That is, individual residence construction, under existing Arizona law, is strictly governed by licensing of qualified builders prior to actual construction. Real estate laws govern the full-disclosure prior to the sale of an individual residence. County “approval” of construction plans and on-site residential inspection serves no value to the public as the County has no financial responsibility for that approval in the event of legal damages. Inspection for zoning compliance, sewage disposal, and addition to the Assessor’s roll are reasonable County functions.

B. Any state or federally mandated programs which are not funded by the state or federal governments should be reject out of hand.

C. Special interest elements within the County’s Budget should be eliminated. It would seem feasible that a spending fund approved by the county voters and set aside for qualified special interest projects might be reasonably initiated. It doesn’t take the rocket scientist to figure out that this fund would needs be strictly controlled as to expenditures to any one project.

3. It is a given that a strong economy is most generally associated with the individual freedoms on which this country is founded. People need the opportunity to try to deal with their own issues. If that sounds vaguely familiar the principle is from, “...teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

4. The County can and should live within its budget.


Here's another citizen's presentation which the Board might wish to consider:

The county should dump the Building Code passed in 2004.

There are four major reasons for this.

I.  Dumping the code will save money -- a lot of money.

$422,000 is the best figure available for how much money the code lost last fiscal year, 2007/8.  $954,000 is the code's total deficit over its first four years.  The code has lost money every year.  Last year was the worst.

But to get the code passed, the Planning Department said it would turn a profit after three years of small losses.  James Vlahovich (then head of the Department, now Deputy County Administrator) predicted first a $166,000 loss, then $1400 profit in fy 2007/8.  The actual $422,000 loss is almost 300 times bigger than that.

The code is a bleeding ulcer in the county treasury.

II.  Eliminating the code bureaucracy will discourage accounting games.

The Board Of Supervisors has repeatedly accepted reports that concealed the true financial picture.

In 2006, Department employee Ron Durgin (then, and now, in charge of enforcing the code) reported to the Board that the code was paying its way.  But in 2007, Judy Anderson (then head of the Department) revealed a deficit of $64,000 during the year covered by Durgin's report.

In 2008, Durgin made a report in a format that, unlike Anderson's 2007 report, didn't show the deficit, nor provide figures from which it could be calculated.  A copy of Durgin's report is online at .

But the report could easily have shown the deficit.  Each month, the Department kept a written spreadsheet of code activity and income for that month and for the year to date.  After a citizen's Public Records request, the Department produced the spreadsheet for mid-June 2008, almost the end of fy 2007/8.  It showed code income of $411,000, down $150,000 from 2006/7.

Of course, a balance sheet requires both income and expenses, and Durgin's report didn't isolate code expenses.  However, Durgin's report also shows expenses up uniformly, about $20,000, for each division of the Department, so it's fair to estimate that code expenses went up about $20,000 from the year before -- and that figure is available from Anderson's report the year before.

$422,000 is the deficit that these numbers give for fy 2007/8.  Expenses grew about $20,000 from 2006/7, and income dropped about $150,000.  $20,000 more expense, and $150,000 less income, makes $170,000 more deficit than the $252,000 for 2006/7.  $170,000 + $252,000 = $422,000.

The 2008 report could have plainly shown this disastrous deficit.  Dropping the code will send a strong signal that the Board will no longer tolerate accounting games.

III.  Dumping the code will restore credibility to the Board.

When the code was passed, the Board voted to require a "review and evaluation process," apparently by "Supervisors, Planning & Zoning staff, County Attorney staff, experts in the field of building codes, builders and developers, and interested members of the public."  (The meeting's minutes are online at .)

Such a review and evaluation would test the promises made in order to get the code passed.  For instance, beside Vlahovich's erroneous financial predictions, he also said the code was "necessary for protecting the public health, safety and welfare" and would encourage "alternative construction methods like straw bale ... and rammed earth."

But there's been no impartial or timely testing of promises, only a long series of self-serving reports by the Department itself, delayed with the consent of the Board.

When the Board passed the code, Vlahovich asked for "nine months before the review and evaluation."  Oddly, just a few days before the evaluation was due, he told the Board that "he did not realize the motion required an evaluation" at that time.  The Board allowed a delay.

In March 2006, Durgin gave the quickie report which said nothing about the code's effect on public safety.

In June 2006, the Board voted for another report by July 2007.  Then the Board delayed that until August 14, 2007.  Then Anderson gave a report which totted up every code violation written up, without examining whether a violation was in theory a serious health or safety issue, or whether public safety had in fact actually improved at all.

Most recently, on October 6, 2008, the Board received Durgin's report, which handled "life or safety" issues the same way that Anderson's report did in 2007:  it totted up the code violations written up, without trying to show that the code has actually had any effect on public safety.

In fact, the 2008 report expresses pride at having so many employees.  However, the code was not passed as a job creation measure.  And with a staff of about 11 people, the county would save money by paying each of them $40,000 a year to stay home.

The Board loses credibility every day it continues this program without actually testing the promises made when it was passed.

IV.  Dumping the code will reduce dislike of county government.

Many rural residents loathe the code.

The dislike began in 2005, when the new code took effect in the area around Sierra Vista, and got worse in 2006 and 2007, as the code took effect in the central and eastern parts of the county.

The resentment arose because the code, in many rural eyes, is an effort to impose Sierra Vista-style regulation on people who have no desire to live as if they were in Sierra Vista.

The resentment increased because of the tactics of some Department employees, who were perceived as, to be plain, thugs.  Even if enforcement were better, there is no apparent reason for enforcement in rural areas:  buildings put up before 2004 were not suffering a rash of falling down or burning up.  People in rural areas tend to pride themselves on competence and self-reliance.

There's no reason for the resentment to decrease, given the huge financial loss that the code is running, and the fact that there's never been an impartial, citizen-based evaluation.

Dumping the code should help rehabilitate county government with many rural residents.