County budget is not the biggest consumer of property taxes

I wondered as I looked out my window, which of my neighbors are most upset at the "increase" in property taxes that most property owners expect as home prices have more than doubled.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors and the county assessor take the most intense attacks.

I talked to the county officials to get the facts. After all, it is the county that collects all these property taxes. We elect a recorder to manage property records, an assessor to determine "fair' value of each piece of property and a treasurer to collect the taxes. The sheriff has a role if one does not pay the taxes.

Sounds like the county government was formed to collect taxes and spend money.

I found that to be a myth.

Our Supervisors levy and budget about 16 cents of each tax dollar you and I pay. Maybe county government is not the big spender of our property tax dollars. True, the county government is collecting $24 million dollars for its general fund in the 2005-06 tax year, up from $21.9 million in this tax year and $20.2 million in 2003-04. That is about 30 percent of the General Fund expenditures.

State law limits the percent of increase in a county (2 percent), city or school budget year to year no matter how much the tax valuation of property increases. The county has reduced their levy from $1.75 per $100 to $1.67, reflecting a growing tax base.

The county takes 16 cents of each property tax dollar. What happens to the remaining 84 cents?

The big gorilla in the property tax jungle is local schools, including the community college. Education takes 60 cents of each property tax dollar. I suspect taxpayers in the Kingman Unified School District will contribute a much higher percentage of their tax dollar to education if the $80 million bond program is approved.

Fire districts take 11.5 percent of each county tax dollar. That percentage is apt to be larger for those in fire districts because Kingman and Lake Havasu City provide fire protection as a city function. Bullhead City is within a larger fire district and the service is property tax funded, not in the city budget.

Countywide tax districts have been approved by citizens for television, libraries and flood control. Flood control collects 6.7 cents of the tax dollar, libraries get almost five cents and the TV uses just over a penny.

Lake Havasu City gets about three cents of the total county collection. Of course that is actually paid by Lake Havasu City property owners and results in those city residents paying a higher percentage of local property taxes to the local government. Kingman has a small bond payment approved by voters for construction of Airway Avenue. It will be paid off soon

A variety of smaller special tax districts across the county use 2.5 percent of the total tax collections and those are paid within the special districts for the benefit of those taxpayers.

The $144 million total property taxes levied for 2005-06 includes nearly $83 million for education from kindergarten through the community college. That 60-percent figure has remained about the same over recent years.

The Arizona state budget's largest expenditure is for education, at about 60 percent of the total.

I do not know how much money is enough to invest in education, but judging priorities by dollars budgeted indicates education is easily the highest single Arizona priority.

Property taxes are not the only or even major source of revenue for the city, county, school and state governments. But, property tax increases or rapidly rising property values excite the taxpayer more than other taxes.

I see two reasons. First, property taxes hit you and I where we live. If we cannot pay the taxes on our homes, we lose the roof over our heads and the personal space we cherish.

Second, people who have lived in homes long enough to own them write checks to the county treasurer to pay that property tax.

Those that pay a monthly mortgage don't get excited because the mortgage holder actually sends the money to the county treasurer. It was collected in the monthly house payment.

That may be why seniors are most likely to protest property taxes. One, they have had that roof over their heads a long time. Two, they actually write a check for the taxes.

Window Pain

Do you know who spends your property tax dollars?

You can look on the tax bill and find the dollar amounts for each tax district billing you - county, city, local school, community college, fire district, etc.

You can also go on the Internet to the Mohave County Treasurer's Web site at www.co.mohave.az.us/depts/treas/tax bill.asp. Check any property in the county, including your own.

Then you can hold each tax district responsible for spending your money wisely. That property tax check you write goes to a lot more places than the Mohave County budget.