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6:10 PM Tue, Dec. 18th

Private land ownership would shrink in transfer plan, supervisor warns

Moss finds nothing to like about proposed swap

KINGMAN - A land transfer involving water rights for a mining operation in Yavapai County would stunt economic development in Mohave County and carve deeper into the dwindling percentage of privately owned land in the county, Supervisor Steve Moss said Monday.

Thousands of acres, possibly more than 10,000, would be removed from private ownership and placed in public trust ownership, much of it for Indian reservations, which means the county's property tax revenue will decline. That puts an extra burden on taxpayers, Moss said.

It would also transfer water rights for mining operations and municipal use in Bagdad.

Moss was encapsulating a 45-minute presentation by Mohave County Assessor Ron Nicholson regarding 34 Planet Ranch land transfer agreements.

"This is huge and very complex," Nicholson told the board at its regular meeting. "It touches on many issues of land ownership. It's necessary for all residents and property owners to realize what's at stake. I'm surprised Mohave County wasn't in the loop earlier."

Among the players in this game are the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Hualapai Tribe, U.S. Trustee for parcels held by the federal government and Arizona Game and Fish.

It involves the Freeport McMoRan Bagdad mine and Byner Cattle Ranch, which really isn't a ranch at all, Nicholson said. Byner owns 405 parcels encompassing about 24,000 acres and qualifies for tax breaks by leasing the land to attain "beneficial agricultural land" status, the county assessor said.

Nicholson threw out a lot of numbers during his presentation, from the 8,873 acre-feet of water to be transferred from Planet Ranch to the Bagdad mine each year to the 50,000 acre-feet of water rights that the city of Scottsdale retained when it sold the land to Freeport for $10.5 million in 2011.

He calculated property taxes of something over $2,000 paid by Byner Cattle on its land, roughly equivalent to taxes paid by the owner of a $280,000 home in Mohave County.

Nicholson also noted that Mohave County has only 13.7 percent of its land available for private property tax to pay for infrastructure and services. That's down from previous estimates of 16 percent.

"When we see water go from Mohave County to Bagdad to keep one of their golf courses in pristine condition, it doesn't set well with me," Supervisor Gary Watson said.

In a related issue, Mohave County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution providing "scoping" comments that are being taken by the BLM regarding a proposed stockpile extension at the Bagdad mine. Watson said the stockpile extension project is "tailings," and leaching could be a problem down the road. The board also directed the development services director to negotiate an agreement with BLM to recognize Mohave County as a "cooperating agency" in the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) process.

In other action, the board continued an item from the regular agenda concerning the continued employment of Mohave County Administrator Mike Hendrix. One member of the audience spoke during the public comment period and said she hopes there's no increase in Hendrix's salaries, as county employees have received less than 2.5 percent wage increases.

Supervisor Buster Johnson responded by reminding the public that Hendrix is a "2-for-1" employee, also serving as county engineer.

The board also pulled item No. 14 from the consent agenda for discussion before approving the item. It authorizes the medical examiner to search for federal, state and other grants to procure equipment for medical examiner services. The board also wants an inventory report on past equipment purchased with grants.