Supervisors still split over sales tax

Mohave County government will remain without an increase in sales taxes for the time being because of continuing opposition from District 3 County Supervisor Buster Johnson of Lake Havasu City.

Johnson said county residents would be asked to pay more taxes without getting additional services, and repeated his suggestion for the need for an internal audit to determine whether the county is operating efficiently.

District 1 Supervisor Pete Byers indicated that he thinks the discussion Monday in Lake Havasu City may have been productive by helping to change minds among Johnson's constituents.

More than 80 people attended the meeting Monday in the public library.

"I think the climate has changed a little bit," he said after a discussion that lasted longer than an hour.

The supervisors did not vote on the proposal, which Byers placed on the agenda.

The supervisors have been trying for at least two fiscal years to double the sales tax to a half-cent on the dollar to increase revenues in the general fund.

However, the board is deadlocked because the sales tax requires a 3-0 vote.

Byers said before the meeting that an additional quarter-percent sales tax could raise $3.3 million to $4 million a year.

Byers and District 2 Supervisor Tom Sockwell voted to tap as much as $2.6 million from the existing sales tax – earmarked to raise money for new buildings – to be used for paying for departments that fall under the general fund for the fiscal year that started July 1.

However, eight people spoke against raising sales taxes, and three of them urged the county to impose impact fees on developers instead.

"There is massive construction in Fort Mojave (and) all over the county," Fort Mojave resident Alex Cariaga said.

"You guys take the easy way out: sales tax or property tax."

Leonard Moschcau, who heads Stop Taxing Our People, insinuated that Byers violated the open-meeting laws by discussing the sales tax matter with Sockwell of Bullhead City.

Byers denied the allegation.

Moschcau was referring to newspaper accounts in which Byers was quoted as saying that he and Sockwell would be forced to raise property taxes if Johnson did not go along with supporting an additional sales tax.

His group launched a petition drive in February to repeal the existing sales tax; Division 1 of the Court of Appeals is reviewing the matter.

Speaking to Byers, Moschcau said, "I don't think you represent your district."

Responding to comments made by the speakers, County Manager Ron Walker said only 15 percent of the property tax bills goes to the county.

The remainder goes to school districts and other special districts.

Walker said Mohave and Pima counties are the only counties in the state that lack a half-cent sales tax.

Walker, on the job since May 1, told the audience that state mandates bar the county from cutting a variety of services.

"Should we get rid of the courts?" he asked rhetorically.

"Should we stop assessing property? "

Walker drew applause when he suggested running the county as a business "and not politics."

"Good for you," a man in the audience said.

Walker said he does not oppose impact fees, but explained they could only be used for specific purposes, not for general government.

He suggested making use of a higher sales tax while retail sales remain strong.

He said revenues do not keep up with spending.

He indicated that the county, which was due to receive property taxes from the Griffith Energy Project in 2003, would have to wait a year if the natural gas-fired plant continues its testing past Dec.

31 and does not reach full capacity until afterward.

Meanwhile, Walker said the county is paying more than $800,000 a year in interest payments for a water infrastructure for the Interstate 40 industrial corridor – where Griffith is located – that the county financed by issuing certificates of participation, which are like government bonds.