Spending plan calls for 2-cent tax boost

Moss opposed; Watson calls hike an 'adjustment'

KINGMAN - While Mohave County staff presented a balanced budget Monday for 2014-15 with no change in the property tax rate, they recommended the Mohave County Board of Supervisors consider a two-cent per $100 increase in the levy rate to fund new initiatives not covered in that budget.

The recommendation drew swift response from several supervisors, including Steve Moss, District 5, who said he would not support a property tax increase under any circumstances. But Gary Watson, District 1, countered by saying the two-cent change is really an adjustment to the rate, not an increase.

Watson said that even with the adjustment, the county would be only holding its own with the same dollar amount from this year to next year because of a continuing drop in assessed valuation. Mohave County Financial Services Director John Timko, who presented the budget, agreed.

"What you're saying is correct," said Timko. "A rate increase from $1.81 to $1.83 would generate revenue to support these projects but would still generate less tax collected by the county by $450,000 from what we're collecting this year. So a tax decrease would still occur, even with a two-cent adjustment on the rate."

Timko said maintaining the current levy rate for 2014-15 would result in a $793,000 reduction in revenue. The county's levy rate is $1.81 per $100, and a two-cent increase for the upcoming fiscal year would raise taxes $20 annually on a house valued at $100,000. The increase would still apply if assessed valuation in the county eventually goes up.

"This definitely is something we debate every year, and this year is going to be no different," said Chairwoman Hildy Angius, District 2. "The argument we always go through is that it's not really a property tax rate increase but then again, yes it is."

The new initiatives, costing a total of $334,327, include the county funding 50 percent of health insurance increases, or $152,000, that was passed on to employees this year, and reclassifying dispatchers in the Mohave County Sheriff's Office for $59,862. It also would include $16,687 to create a lead deputy position and reclassify officers in the Mohave County Probation Department.

Also, the county would reclassify Mohave County Procurement Department employees for $13,830 and approve a new secretary for increased dependency cases at $42,335 in the Mohave County Legal Defender's Office. And the extra money would bring in a new office clerk and attorney for the Mohave County Public Defender's Office for $33,908, as well as reclassify a legal advocate there for $15,705.

The balanced budget comes despite the fact that the assessed valuation for the county has decreased 31.8 percent over the past five years. It dropped from $2.5 billion in 2009 to an estimated $1.7 billion in 2014. The biggest decrease came in 2011, with a 16.75 percent drop in assessed value to $1.9 billion.

"It is simply incredible that from the years 2009 to 2014, we've seen a 31.8 percent decrease in our evaluations," said Watson. "I hope we have reached the end of this and the scenario won't continue any longer. I realize how difficult it has been for the departments and elected officials to come forth with this budget, knowing that at some point down the road, we'll be facing an adjustment to the tax rate."

Timko said that to balance the budget, departments were instructed to submit base budgets with no increases from the general fund. New initiatives and capital equipment requests were restricted to those legally mandated, necessary for life and safety reasons or that could be funded by offsetting reductions in other areas of the departments' budgets.

Other determining factors in preparing the budget, said Timko, are expenses from the general election this year, which will cost $545,000. Also, the county will pay off its administration building on July 1, resulting in about $612,000 in additional general fund expenses for operation, maintenance and utilities that had previously been paid through lease payments.

On a brighter side, said Timko, a modest increase in retail sales during 2013-14 allows the county to expect an increase of $219,000 in state shares sales tax revenues. And fee income generated by the county's departments will bring an increase of about $444,000, he said.

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