Monday was tax day for counties around the state of Arizona. Arizona’s two largest counties, Pima County (the home of Tucson) and Maricopa County (the home of Phoenix), took decidedly different paths on behalf of their taxpayers.
In a 3 -2 vote, the Pima County Board of Supervisors has approved a property tax rate increase to support a $1.2 billion budget in order to maintain service levels to residents.
The increase sets a primary tax rate of $3.66 per $100 of assessed value, which is a 7.3% increase in the primary tax rate from the existing rate of $3.41. Bottom line spending in Pima County increased by $33.4 million over last year’s spending.
(Follow the link to view adopted budgets for the past two years: http://webcms.pima.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_6/File/Government/Administration/Budget/Final%20Adopted%20Combined.pdf)
One County source said, “This game of duping folks with rates and valuations is how the County plays it to the public. Spending went up 33.4 mil from 2012-13 to this year.”
In a unanimous vote Monday morning, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors followed their tax cutting pledge and set an overall tax rate no higher than last year’s, resulting in a nearly $33 million cut in property taxes for county residents.
The rate for the combined Maricopa County-controlled operations will be $1.46 per $100 assessed valuation.
Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller expressed disappointment after the meeting in an interview on a Tucson radio show. Miller said that she had hoped her fellow supervisors would have approached the budget as “if it was their own money at home.” Tucson is the 6th poorest metropolitan area in the country with one of the highest tax rates in the state. Residents can ill afford the continued spending increases from Pima County.
Miller explained that the Board will also use some of that increase to fund efforts to provide water for the nonprofit “Humane Borders” and laminated maps with English/Spanish directions to illegal border crossers. Miller was alone in voting against that measure.
According to sources, the Board’s agenda was moved around so that the difficult vote could be avoided by fellow Board member Ray Carroll, who has voted every year for funding Humane Borders water stations. However, the outlay of funds was opposed in the last election cycle by voters in Carroll’s district. Carroll was also spared a vote on the use of bond monies to donate to a non-profit in order to draw down federal Medicare dollars. That measure passed 3 -1 along party lines.
Miller delayed an additional $50,000 for funding of an expert witness in the County and the County Assessors’ lawsuit against Raytheon, the area’s largest private employer. The County has already paid the witness $50,000 and wished to increase the contract to $100,000. Raytheon won its case against the County for an inflated valuation by the Assessor, but the County operatives are determined to use taxpayer dollars to continue their battle against business. Miller is hoping this will end the lawsuit against the largest private employer in Southern Arizona. She also noted that the folks in Huntsville, Alabama aren’t suing Raytheon.
On August 14th, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and staff filed 336 pages of comments to the Forest Service on the Rosemont Environmental Impact statement in their attempt to stop the opening of Rosemont Mine. ” If we continue down this path of impeding business in this community and don’t cut spending, taxpayers can expect continued tax increases” stated Miller. The mine is expected to bring in desperately needed jobs, but will compete with the pecan growers in Green Valley for water. The growers have been very active in supporting the political campaigns of the mine’s opponents.
The three democrats on the board, Richard Elias, Sharon Bronson, and Ramon Valadez, said little during the entire proceeding, voting exactly as anticipated by County Manager, Chuck Huckelberry. During that discussion, Huckelberry advised Miller that the County was no longer part of the suit. He argued that the Assessor was within his right to bring the suit to which Miller questioned why the Assessor could not pay for the lawyers out of his own budget. Huckelberry stopped smiling and the Board voted to delay the vote until September.
In stark contrast to the actions of Pima County, Maricopa County Board Chairman Andy Kunasek was pleased with the work of his Board members. Two months ago the Maricopa County Board adopted a general fund budget $89 million lower than the previous year. “What we have done is balance the desire to lower property taxes during a time of lingering economic hardship with the increasing needs of the organization, especially criminal justice and law enforcement,” Kunasek said. “It was a good, sound conservative budget and it has resulted in another drop in county taxes for our residents. It was not easy, but it was accomplished.”
Supervisor Clint Hickman, R-Goodyear, echoed that sentiment. “Now, just as the economy is turning positive, it is the right time to relieve our citizens of any additional tax burdens.”
Board member, Steve Chucri said the vote affirmed his highest priority upon taking office – not to raise tax rates. “There was great pressure, given the continued decline in assessed valuation, to raise rates and bring in greater revenues,” he said. “I felt we needed to resist that temptation and take a much closer look at spending cuts before agreeing to any increases. With the help of our good management and budget staff, that goal was accomplished.”
Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, D- Phoenix, voted for the proposal but did express reservations. “I do feel we could have adopted a slightly higher rate than we did, one which would not have raised taxes on homeowners, but would have provided about $15 million more to meet our critical needs.” But Wilcox said she appreciated the supervisors’ support for a merit pay increase for county employees, so she decided to support the measure.
“County taxes make up only about 11.7 percent of the average property tax bill,” commented Supervisor Denny Barney of Gilbert. “Because times are still tough for many of our constituents, the Board of Supervisors worked hard this year to reduce its share of the property tax burden.”