Supervisors back property tax hike

Mohave County Manager Ron Walker got one of his wishes granted Monday when the county supervisors agreed to raise property taxes while approving a $145.8 million tentative budget for the fiscal year that started July 1.

However, a "no" vote by District 3 Supervisor Buster Johnson doomed Walker's other recommendation for relieving the county's fiscal woes: increasing the county's quarter-percent sales tax by an additional quarter-cent on the dollar.

The sales tax requires a unanimous vote of the three supervisors, unlike a property tax, which can be raised with the support of two board members.

Supervisors Pete Byers of District 1 and Tom Sockwell of District 2 voted for a three-part motion that called for raising the sales and property taxes and approving the tentative budget for 2001-2002.

The tentative budget is about the same as the budget adopted for the 2000-2001 fiscal year.

Any increase of the property tax would require a separate vote at a meeting set for Aug.

13 when the supervisors set tax rates, Chief Deputy Civil Attorney Deborah Herbert said.

The property tax is now $1.75 for each $100 in assessed valuation, and may be raised under state law a total of 21.94 cents per $100.

Johnson has said that he would support raising property taxes, but has opposed increasing sales taxes because of opposition among constituents, who launched a petition drive to repeal a sales tax that went into effect Jan.

1, 2000.

The previous board voted for that tax to raise money for new county buildings.

He said during the meeting that he wanted to see a reorganization study conducted to determine whether county departments could be run more efficiently, and questioned Walker for overlooking fee hikes to increase revenues.

"I just told the truth," Johnson said after the discussion, which lasted about an hour.

He also questioned a $436,000 increase in costs for raising salaries in 1999-2000 and about $500,000 that fiscal year for higher health insurance costs.

Johnson said he would reconsider a sales tax hike if a reorganization study determined the need for it.

Byers indicated after the meeting that he was disappointed with the 2-1 vote.

Sockwell was in Oklahoma, and participated in the meeting through a conference call.

"We have hired a county manager who researched and brought back a recommendation to raise the property tax and the sales tax and (reinstate) the sheriff's override (property tax)," Byers said.

"Tom Sockwell and I agreed to raise both (taxes).

Buster Johnson refused."

Walker, on the job since May 1, said raising the property taxes by 21.94 cents would raise about $2.2 million for the fiscal year, about enough to cover the costs of state-mandated programs such as health care and indigent defense.

A quarter-percent sales tax, which would not go into effect until three months after approval by the board, would generate about $2 million.

In advance of the meeting, Walker prepared a five-page report in which he projected a $1.2 million decrease in revenues, and recommended cutting the general fund budget by 7.1 percent to avoid a budget deficit.

The general fund, derived from property and sales taxes, fees, fines and other sources, accounts for about $45 million of the overall budget.

Walker drew support from several department heads who spoke in favor of raising both taxes.

Sheriff Tom Sheahan said cuts are likely.

"Even with a property tax, we are probably going to take some kind of cut," Sheahan said.

"We won't know what kind of cuts we are going to be absorbing until we have some meetings."