Supervisors approve budgets with no increase in taxes

A $150 million budget approved by the Mohave County supervisors Monday maintains the current level for property taxes, but $2.6 million raised from an existing sales tax will be used to help the county ease its fiscal crisis.

The supervisors deadlocked 2-1 on raising property taxes the maximum of 21.94 cents on the dollar from $1.75 for every $100 in assessed valuation and on doubling the countywide sales tax to a half-percent.

An increase in the sales tax requires a 3-0 vote.

Instead, they voted to use the existing sales tax, which went into effect Jan.

1, 2000, with the intent of raising $125.9 for buildings over a 20-year period, to pay for mandated and contractual expenses.

The option also calls for using the $2.6 million to cover the costs of maintaining departments paid for through the general fund to what the county budgeted them for the 2000-2001 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

The county has collected about $5.7 million from the sales tax as of June 30, County Manager Ron Walker said.

Supervisor Tom Sockwell of Bullhead City attached to his motion a commitment to consider reinstating a property tax, known as an override, for the Mohave County Sheriff's Office.

The supervisors voted for that option after staff advised them to reconsider their first vote for adopting the final budget.

Supervisor Buster Johnson of Lake Havasu City voted against both options.

Sensing opposition from his constituents, he has opposed hiking the sales tax.

And while during a meeting July 31 he proposed earmarking a portion from the existing sales tax to pay for new computers and vehicles, he said after the meeting on Monday that he voted against the motion because doing so would "raid that fund" without a plan in place.

Walker, who has been analyzing the county's financial situation since he started on the job May 1, recommended raising both the sales and property taxes, and lobbied against tapping the existing sales tax.

He estimated raising the sales and property taxes would increase revenues by more than $4 million.

Walker has estimated that mandated services such as indigent defense and health care would increase by more than $2.1 million while general fund revenues would drop by $1.2 million.

Supervisor Pete Byers of Kingman said afterward, "We would be much better off if we got a sales tax.

We'll just have to wait."

A Kingman resident who spoke out against raising property taxes said afterward that he was disappointed with the decision taken by the supervisors.

"I feel that the supervisors' meeting was a complete farce today," said William Braman, a retired real estate broker.

"I don't think they accomplished anything."

The supervisors also heard from two Lake Havasu City men who oppose tapping the existing sales tax: Conard Blevins, who chaired Johnson's re-election campaign in 2000; and Lenny Moschcau, who launched a petition drive in February in repeal the existing sales tax because he heard the supervisors planned to use the funds for remodeling buildings.

Moschcau said his group, Stop Taxing Our People, hired attorney Harvey Jackson of Lake Havasu City, and threatened a lawsuit.

On the advice of the county attorney's office, Elections Director Brad Nelson refused to accept anti-tax petitions that Moschcau planned to present on July 13.

Byers suggested raising the sales tax for a year, and said he was reluctant to dip into the existing sales tax.

Sockwell motioned to raise both sales and property taxes.

He offered to appease Johnson by amending his motion with a suggestion to hire a consultant to conduct an audit to improve the efficiency of county operations.