Santa Cruz Co. hiring freeze irks Sheriff Estrada - Tucson News Now

Santa Cruz Co. hiring freeze irks Sheriff Estrada

NOGALES, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

A stand-off of sorts is taking place in Santa Cruz County.

What started as a hiring freeze five years ago is now trickling into several county departments.

And it's drawing the ire of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff.

This is an age old issue that we've seen in communities around the state: a county board that needs to balance its budget -- public safety officials who say you can't put a price tag on safety.

But something in Nogales has to give.

Or it's the people of Santa Cruz County who will ultimately pay the price.

As storm clouds roll over one of the smallest and poorest counties in Arizona, a storm of a different kind is brewing inside the Santa Cruz County Sheriff.

"In our particular case, we're in a crisis mode. We need to hire now."

Four new dispatchers and four new deputies -- that's what long-time Sheriff Tony Estrada is looking for.

Knowing that was pretty unlikely, he instead asked the Board of Supervisors to approve half of that: two dispatchers and two deputy positions.

"The longer we wait, the more risk it becomes for public, the more concerns the public has here in Santa Cruz County," Estrada says.

His request was denied.

"Really when we have a hiring freeze in place, we really don't have a policy as to how we're going to fill those positions that have become vacant."

That's Manuel Ruiz, chairman of the Santa Cruz Count Board of Supervisors.

For the last five years he says the board's had no choice but to freeze all hiring and even eliminate some county positions.

"You know if we continue this way, I don't want to let people go."

Ruiz says the county continues to spend more than it makes.

So much, County Prosecutor George Silva couldn't even replace a recently departed legal assistant.

So what does it all mean?

That property taxes could again go up in Santa Cruz County.

"They collect all the property taxes from the residents and businesses in Nogales," says Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino.

The fact that it's already happened once this year doesn't bode well for a county that might have do it again, sooner than anyone could have anticipated.

"They just raised the taxes on the citizens of Nogales and believe me," Garino says, "when you raise taxes for a community, you better make sure that the services are rendered to that community because that's what the people expect from their taxes."

The Santa Cruz County Board is reconsidering its hiring policy and could take action on the matter Wednesday morning during its next regular meeting.

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