KINGMAN, ARIZ.– In the end, most Mohave County property owners will not be paying more in taxes, but it was a wild day at Monday’s board of supervisors meeting to get to that point. The county’s primary property tax rate will go up, but secondary taxes for the Television Improvement District and the Library District were lowered. The 15-cent increase in the primary property tax rate will be offset by decreases in the tax rate for the two secondary districts. The surprise changes, which will result in no net increase for taxpayers, were unveiled at the end of Monday’s marathon meeting.
The deeply divided board first voted to increase the county’s primary property tax rate, but they turned down a proposal to send a letter to taxpayers that opponents said would do nothing but blame the state legislature for the tax increase.
The board voted 3-to-2 to increase the property tax by 4.3 percent. District 1 Supervisor Gary Watson, District 3 Supervisor Buster Johnson and District 4 Supervisor Jean Bishop continued to stand in solidarity, approving the tax increase that they have steadfastly supported in two previous votes. County administrators indicated that the increase will result in the primary property taxes on a $100,000 home to increase from $188.88 to $196.96.
District 2 Supervisor Hildy Angius and District 5 Supervisor and Board chairman Steve Moss continued their ardent opposition to the property tax increase. Both supervisors have long held that the county already has sufficient cash reserves to pay the estimated $2.5 million dollars in cost-shifts from the state and the other $1.3 million in budget shortfalls without raising any tax. Having lost two previous votes opposing the property tax increase, both Angius and Moss tried to revive the push for an increase in the county’s sales tax instead, but that also did not gain any traction with their colleagues.
Bishop mentioned that the sales tax increase was her preferred choice, but said that did not seem to resonate with Johnson, who was the only holdout on the sales tax discussion. Unlike the property tax increase, Arizona state law requires such an increase in the sales tax be approved by unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors. Johnson made it clear during the budget discussions that he would never support an increase in the sales tax, therefore killing the proposal.
Johnson defended his position on the sales tax issue by saying such an increased would impose more of a burden on the public than the property tax. Johnson indicated a quarter-cent sales tax would generate $7.5 million in revenues, compared to the $1.4 million that will be generated by the property tax increase.
Angius challenged Johnson’s position by saying it would spread the impact onto more people, including non-residents who don’t pay property tax. She also said it would offer the county an opportunity to give property owners a tax break.
In the end it was Johnson, however, that unveiled another proposal to offset the increase in the primary property tax rate. A suggestion to decrease the TV and Library Districts tax rates in an amount equal to the primary increase won support from all supervisors with the exception of Moss.
Moss was concerned about operational concerns with the county’s libraries in voting against the proposal.
Despite Moss’ ‘no’ vote, Angius called the last minute change a win for both supervisors, as well as the taxpayers in Mohave County. She said, the ongoing pressure from residents is to be credited for today’s last-minute change.
Although the property tax increase was approved, a proposal to send a letter to taxpayers explaining the need for the added revenues was not approved. Rather than joining Johnson and Watson, who supported the letter concept, Bishop instead joined Angius and Moss in opposition to it.
Johnson had offered the letter as a way to explain to property owners how the state’s costs shifts over the last decade have impacted Mohave County. He modeled his proposal after what is done in Pinal County. Tax bills in Pinal County include a separate line-item showing taxpayers what part of their taxes go to pay for the cost-shifts from the state.
Johnson referred to it as an ‘educational’ piece to inform taxpayers as to why property taxes are going up.
His proposal ran into opposition from Reps. Sonny Borrelli, (R-Lake Havasu City), and Regina Cobb, (R-Kingman), who also addressed the board during today’s meeting. Borrelli called the proposal an ‘electioneering’ effort to provide cover to the supervisors who were voting to increase taxes.
Watson was the only county supervisor to join Johnson in voting for the letter. As such, the proposal failed and letters will not be sent to taxpayers.