Supervisor supports tax revolt

Johnson sides with petitioners; Byers warns that passage would bankrupt county

KINGMAN ­ Two proposed restrictions on property taxes have Mohave County officials dismayed. They say that if the Arizona Tax Revolt and the Truth in Taxation bills are successful, then the county would be forced to spend more money than it could be allowed to raise.

There is a significant exception to the county's line of thinking ­ District 3 Supervisor Buster Johnson of Lake Havasu City.

The Tax Revolt is a citizen group that is trying to roll back property taxes to 2003 levels and freeze them there through a ballot initiative similar to California's Proposition 13. The state Legislature is circulating several bills that would collectively limit counties to the primary property tax levies from the previous year's level plus new growth and about two percent for inflation.

Both proposals could stifle the county's ability to grow, District 1 Supervisor Pete Byers said.

"It would bankrupt Mohave County with the present growth and the present cost of business in 3.9 years if we don't do anything else," he said. "With the growth coming now and the chances of all the things that could happen, I don't think this is a time we could cut because we're growing. We don't have time to catch up."

Cost for mandatory programs are not decreasing, Byers added. State law requires the county to offer indigent health care and federal law mandates the county provide legal representation.

"The state just sends us a bill. We don't get to determine how much we give to indigent health care," he said. "We don't have any control over how many cases we're going to have in the court that we have to give a free lawyer to."

District 2 Supervisor Tom Sockwell said he thinks changes to the tax structure are necessary but the two proposed plans are not the answers.

"Inflation over a period of time would really hurt," he said. "People are being overtaxed, but we have no provisions to compensate for something like that immediately. We could change the levy rate some to help that. But if we lower the levy rate and these propositions go through, we're in an even bigger problem then."

Supervisor Buster Johnson (Dist. 3) disagrees with his fellow board members and supports the Tax Revolt's plan.

"Because the assessments have gone up so fast Š I'm paying an awful lot more, as is everyone else, for the same piece of property," he said. "The tax rates have not been lowered so that's what's hurting."

The county's 1.75/$1,000 share makes up only a part of the overall tax bill. If the county completely dropped its tax rate to zero, Johnson doubted whether anyone would even notice.

"The way the assessments go up, they'd probably still have an increase in the total amount," he said.

Arizona Tax Revolt Chairman Marc Goldstone said his initiative would create a permanent freeze on increases for 2007, but he added his group plans to introduce initiatives in 2008 that would allow for a 2-percent increase annually to allow for inflation among other changes.

The county received more than $18.1 million in property taxes in 2002-03 and about $22 million in 2004-05, the last year figures were available. Property tax revenue increased 12 percent in 2005 and made up 32 percent of county revenues, according to the 2005 budget summary.

Goldstone and Johnson said they think the county could still provide efficient services operating off 2003 level property tax revenues along with a slight increase to offset inflation.

"For several years they've taken double digit increases in property tax revenue and now when we're saying enough is enough, we're not just referring to this year. We're looking at the past and said 'you guys have been living high on the hog well above our ability to support your habits,'" Goldstone said. "It's time to start reversing the trend, recognizing you've taken in too much money the last several years and start reducing the budget."

The Tax Revolt's proposal also limits the issuance of bonds. New bond payments could not exceed the taxpayer's total property tax cap. So for example, if a school district wanted to float a bond for construction, another tax district, say a fire district, would have to cut its taxes so collectively they did not exceed the total tax paid.

Hualapai Valley Fire Department Chief Wayne Eder said his district is working on cutting the tax rate this year through increasing the number of taxpaying residents in the district. The rollback would reverse the progress the district has made, he said.

"Basically if we roll back our budget to 2003, because the district's grown, our budget's increased, we've added fire stations, if I was to rollback my budget todayŠ I would be closing fire stations, laying off firefighters and just reducing service," he said. "The community can't afford to cut back emergency services. Nobody is calling 9-1-1 any less."