Supervisors back sales tax to increase revenues

Faced with a funding shortfall for the budget year beginning July 1, the Mohave County supervisors on Monday unanimously backed a proposal for an additional quarter-percent sales tax.

Supervisor Carol Anderson, who has been lobbying for the sales tax since the May 22 meeting, said it could be used for increasing employee salaries.

She said any leftover funds could be used to help employees pay a higher share than they expected to contribute toward their medical benefits beginning in January.

The sales tax discussion came up in an item placed on the agenda for Supervisor Jim Zaborsky, five days after the supervisors conducted a budget hearing.

The supervisors instructed the finance staff to come up with numbers for the sales tax and report back at the July 10 meeting, the day the supervisors are expected to adopt a tentative budget for 2000-2001.

With a bleak budget outlook, the supervisors face the prospect of cutting services or raising revenues, Zaborsky said during the start of the discussion.

Interim County Manager Dick Skalicky instructed department heads in advance of last week1s budget session to pare their spending by an average of 12 percent so that he could present a balanced budget to the supervisors.

The supervisors discussed a $54.9 million spending plan for the General Fund when they met on Wednesday, and heard presentations from department heads.

"That 12 percent (cut) has made a significant dent," Zaborsky said.

"I would like us to take a look at this sales tax.

It could get us through the budget year."

The three supervisors elected in November should study raising the property tax (currently at $1.75 per $100 in assessed valuation), Zaborsky said.

Zaborsky and Anderson are not seeking re-election, and Anderson is the only current supervisor who has asked the board to consider raising property taxes.

A higher sales tax could cover the motor pool and information technology, Zaborsky said.

The supervisors in August 1999 approved a quarter-percent sales tax to raise an estimated $125.9 million for new county buildings over a 20-year period.

The tax went into effect Jan.

1.

He estimated the sales tax could raise $3 million over the first year.

"Realistically, we have to start looking at how much we pay our employees," Zaborsky said.

"We need to put a program in place where we adjust salaries or we lose good people."

Anderson concurred, saying she considers the employees the top priority.

The county has about 1,200 full-time employees.

She suggested raising their pay by 3 percent, and recommended imposing the tax for only one year.

"This gives us the opportunity to work with our employees," she said.

Zaborsky said he sees no reason to limit the tax.

He suggested holding a special meeting to discuss the tax, but the supervisors could not agree on a date before July 10 because of scheduling conflicts.

Over Supervisor Buster Johnson's objections, the supervisors in September 1999 approved a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for employees and an additional 3 percent "merit" increase.

The cost-of-living hike kicked in during November, but the merit raises did not go into effect until the anniversary dates of the employees.

A 6 percent increase in pay for employees would cost the county an estimated $1.2 million in the next fiscal year, Chief Financial Officer Duc Ma said.