On Monday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors, in a 4-1 vote, agreed to increase a loan to the University of Arizona for the completion of the University’s Mineral Museum. At the same time, the supervisors approved raising taxes.
Supervisors Richard Elias, Sharon Bronson, Ramon Valadez, and Steve Christy approved an increase in the loan amount to the University of Arizona for tenant improvements, bringing the loan amount to $13.5 million for the 20,789 square foot space.
Supervisors additionally approved in a 4-1 vote, a $5 annual lease to the University of Arizona at 240 N. Stone that includes 2 court rooms and an office totaling 3,026 square feet. Supervisor Ally Miller was the lone “no” vote.
“Too often it seems as if much of the County’s decision making is made based on proximity to power and not solid data. As a result, we enter into risky business “opportunities” and speculative projects while neglecting the needs of a majority of our residents,” explained Supervisor Miller in a press release. “It is a shame that we continue to force taxpayers to subsidize the University of Arizona when the University received a $2.643 billion budget this year.”
The supervisors also approved a tax increase in a 3-2 vote. Bronson, Elias and Valadez rejected Miller’s proposed plan for a tax neutral budget in what she described as “an effort to spare the taxpayers an unnecessary increased burden.”
Miller explained that her proposal used the funds allotted for unfilled positions on a temporary basis in order to achieve a tax neutral budget. She noted in her release:
• 1,756 Full Time Employee (FTE) positions remain unfilled
• $58,094,972 is the total amount budgeted for the unfilled positions
• $8,307,716 has been saved in the General Fund only from vacant positions up to this point (8/06/2019)
• the County is on track to save $72,000,207 in the General Fund from personnel expenses if these positions remain unfilled
• the amount of money needed to make a tax neutral budget was $10,795,268
• the savings could have been used to ensure that taxpayers would not experience a tax increase
“Had my colleagues adopted my proposal, they could have spared the taxpayers of Pima County from an increased financial burden, and as you can see from the numbers above, not one service or job would have been impacted,” said Miller. “While some of my colleagues paid lip service to the proposal, when push came to shove, they chose to shove another increase through. Not only did they ignore my pleas for fiscal restraint and compassion, they ignored those of County Assessor Bill Staples.”
In May, Staples, a democrat, called on the Board to “be honest” about the tax rates and to lower them in order to avoid an increase in property owners’ tax bills.
“As I have said before, not only are Pima County taxpayers carrying the burden of our university and other favored organizations, they continually face rising taxes. As in the past, this year I urged my fellow supervisors to show some level of compassion for taxpayers. I proposed the adoption of a neutral property tax in an effort to ensure the equity that my fellow supervisors speak of so often. Unfortunately, they opted to increase the burden of the residents in the fifth poorest metropolitan area in the country, once again,” concluded Miller’s statement.
According to Miller, a tax neutral budget could have been achieved by simply not filling some of the over 1,700 budgeted vacant job positions. A majority of those positions, which have been budgeted, have not be filled for years.
According to the University of Arizona’s budget report, the University’s FY2019 budget of $2.643 billion represents a $56.7 million or 2% increase over the FY2018 budget.
Pima County leadership has increased the burden on taxpayers in order to develop the University of Arizona’s Mineral Museum. Yet, records show that approximately 836 University of Arizona employees receive annual salaries from $875,000 to $150,000 with an annual average salary of $244,257.