County officials explain tax rates during public hearing

A public hearing on tax rates for Mohave County government and special districts Monday turned into a forum where county officials explained county taxes and the fact that the county rates are not rising.

The primary tax rate will remain at $1.75 per $100 in assessed valuation and the secondary rates for county-based special districts such as flood control and the library will not change either, they said.

The county supervisors conducted the public hearing, which lasted about 40 minutes, a week in advance of a meeting when they will set rates for all taxing entities in the county, including school and fire districts.

The county treasurer's office serves as the tax collection agency for the county and outside special districts.

County supervisors Pete Byers, Tom Sockwell and Buster Johnson conducted the hearing, where two members of the public spoke.

Johnson participated via conference call.

The county's primary property tax rate has averaged $1.75 during the past decade and is 20 percent below the average rate in Arizona, county manager Ron Walker said.

The tax for the countywide library district stays at 32.36 cents per $100 in assessed valuation and the flood control tax stays at 50 cents per $100 in assessed value.

Revenue from special tax districts pays for the operations of the districts, while the primary tax rate revenue goes into the county's general fund.

Finance director John Timko said two school districts have proposed changing their rates.

Kingman Unified has proposed cutting the primary rate from $4.2378 to $4.0508 for $100 in assessed valuation and establishing a secondary rate of 86.84 cents.

In the Arizona Strip, Fredonia-Moccasin proposed cutting its primary rate of $4.5284 to $3.9532 per $100 for the primary rate and eliminating the secondary rate of $1.49.89.

School districts and other taxing agencies are able to adjust their rates depending on fluctuations in assessed property value, according to county assessor Bev Payne.

For instance, the combined assessed value in the Kingman Unified School District is expected to increase from $256.9 million for the 2001-2002 fiscal year to more than $297.6 million for the current fiscal year.

After Timko made his presentation, Mohave Valley resident Joe McNeal questioned county officials on the tax rates.

"It keeps going up every year," McNeal said.

Walker explained that the county's primary rate accounts for only 12 percent of McNeal's total property tax bill.

"Your tax rate has not increased," Walker said.

Byers said he and Sockwell wanted to increase sales taxes with the intent of lowering property taxes.

Sales taxes, he said, would be paid for in part by tourists.

He referred to a petition drive and lawsuit by Stop Taxing Our People demanding that voters decide whether to repeal a quarter-percent sales tax that went into effect Jan.

1, 2000.

The sales tax goes into a building fund.

If STOP prevails, the county will be forced to increase property taxes, Byers said.

McNeal, who is retired, questioned county officials about the changing – and improved – financial situation for county government.

Walker acknowledged that county officials have determined that the finances are better than previous projections.

"I'll take all the criticism anyone wants to throw at me about being successful," Walker said.

McNeal suggested better communication.

"You have to talk to us," he said.

"Maybe next year we can do better communicating."

Fort Mojave resident Alex Cariaga apparently agreed.

"Don't be scared putting the facts out there," he told the supervisors.