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Value of Mohave County TV tax district mulled by supervisors

Hildy Angius

All property owners pay for service used by unknown number of county residents

KINGMAN - The Mohave County Board of Supervisors may pull the plug on the county's TV taxing district.

District 2 Supervisor Hildy Angius questioned the district's purpose during the Board's discussion of property tax rates last week.

The district was created in 1983 and pays for the upkeep of 12 to 13 TV towers scattered across the county that boost the signals from Phoenix and Las Vegas TV stations, said Yvonne Orr, who is in charge of the district for the county. The district charges property owners $0.0867 per $100 of assessed value.

"There are many people in the county that depend on this system for state and nationwide news. It may also be the only dependable means to convey emergency information to some people," she said.

"Have we ever done a survey to see how many people use this?" Angius asked.

"There's no real means to measure viewers," Orr said.

The closest estimate she could make was that more than 27,000 people filed for coupons for free digital TV converter boxes from the federal government. But that doesn't cover all households, she said. Some people have more than one TV set and others have newer TVs that can handle the digital signal without a converter box.

Board Chairman Gary Watson asked how much the towers and equipment were worth.

Orr estimated a $1.8 million value and pointed out that the Mohave County Sheriff's Office and other local and state law enforcement agencies use the towers for communications between their officers.

Angius said she planned to vote for the tax rate but wanted county staff to consider putting the issue out to the voters.

"In this day and age when people do have access to cable and satellite and all of that - I do understand that people use it, but again, is that our job?" Angius asked. "Actually, I would like to put that out to the voters. Is that something that voters feel is important enough to have on their tax bill? I don't think it's the government's job to provide people with TV signals."

"I have a problem with cutting those people off," said District 4 Supervisor Joy Brotherton. A few months back one of the towers near Chloride went down and she received three phone calls from residents asking when the signal would return.

"One elderly lady told me that was her only link to the outside world," Brotherton said. "When I moved here, with three children, I couldn't afford cable. Our only source of TV was those free channels."

Golden Valley resident Steven Robinson asked why the county had such a large "surplus." He said the fund had $8.5 million that was swept from the fund last year to help pay off the debt the county owned on the county jail and that the fund currently had around $2.5 million in it.

According to county budget records, the county budgeted $9.4 million for the district in fiscal year 2013. It spent $6.8 million. Most of that money, around $6.1 million, was transferred to the county's debt payoff fund, which is used to pay down debt on capitol improvement projects for the county, such as buildings. The county carried over around $2.9 million in the fund to fiscal year 2014.

In 2012, the Arizona Legislature gave local governments the authority to sweep money from other funds in order to cover their expenses. The idea was to give local governments more flexibility in covering deficits created by the state sweeping money from the Highway User Revenue Fund that cities and counties use to repair roads.

The "surplus" in the fund was built up over five years in order to help pay for the change in equipment from analog to digital signal, Orr said.

Robinson also asked why the county decided to go to a high-definition digital signal instead of a standard-definition digital signal.

The county was told by its lawyers in Washington D.C. that it needed to install high definition digital equipment, Orr explained.

"I think Hildy has the correct approach. I think this should be researched by staff," said District 5 Supervisor Steven Moss.

The Board unanimously approved the tax rate with the condition that staff research the matter.

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