Bishop, Angius explain reasons behind property tax vote

KINGMAN - County Supervisor Hildy Angius said she could not in good conscience base her recent property tax vote on what if, maybe and perhaps.

What if the economy doesn't improve in a year? Maybe the state will shift another $2.5 million from Mohave County, as it did this year. Perhaps we should prepare for the worst.

That's why Angius voted against raising property taxes in Mohave County to offset a $3.8 million shortfall in the fiscal 2016 budget, the county supervisor told about 50 people attending Wednesday's Mohave Republican Forum.

In one of the monthly forum's more heated debates, Supervisors Angius and Jean Bishop defended their opposing stances on raising property taxes from $1.86 to $2.01 for every $1,000 of assessed value.

The proposed 15-cent tax rate increase, passed by a 3-2 vote at Monday's Board of Supervisors meeting, would amount to an extra $15 a year on a $100,000 home.

The tentative budget proposal comes back to the board on July 20, with final adoption set for Aug. 3.

The premise of the tax increase is that the state will continue to "sweep" funds from the counties, and Angius said she's not buying into that.

"We have a new governor. The Legislature lets the governor have what he wants in his first year. It's going to be very different next year," Angius said.

"Give us some time to see what happens. I don't personally think we'll have those shifts. If it does happen, we'll come back next year and see what we should do."

Bishop said taxpayers might as well absorb the pain now. Her proposal was to impose a quarter-cent sales tax increase, which would have required a unanimous vote, and she could see it wasn't getting any support. The sales tax increase would have raised about $6 million, and 60 percent of sales tax revenue comes from people traveling through Mohave County, Bishop noted.

"I was hesitant when Supervisor (Buster) Johnson proposed the property tax," she said. "This is one of the toughest decisions I've had to make, but I feel we need to face reality. You people elected me to protect you. I'm sorry. I felt like I needed to [vote for the tax]."

County Finance Director Coral Loyd started the discussion with a short presentation on the preliminary budget, noting that it's relatively unchanged over the last eight years. The 2016 general fund is $72.75 million, an increase of less than $10,000 from 2008.

"In 2008, the economy started to tank and the budget was in a pretty good situation," Loyd said. "The last eight years the budget has been fluctuating up and down, but has not changed in total. Meanwhile, prices have gone up."

Arizona's Legislature shifted $417.5 million in costs to counties in the last seven years, including $13.1 million for Mohave County, the finance directed noted. About half of that ($6.4 million) was diverted from HURF, or Highway Users Revenue Fund.

State Rep. Regina Cobb, who attended the forum briefly before going to a town hall in Valle Vista, said she definitely does not see shifts happening over the next few years.

"You can see we live within our means. We made 25 percent in cuts at the state. We estimated $1.5 million to Mohave County. You estimated $2.5 million. What is that, 3 percent? Not 25 percent like the state," Cobb said.

"Honestly, we felt we did the best job we could for Mohave County and we're proud of that. It really irritates me when I hear that's what the state did to Mohave County.

"The longer this budget process would have gone on, the less we would have got for Mohave County."

Richard Basinger, president of Mohave Republican Forum, asked Cobb if she doesn't see the state shifts continuing, why is it happening year after year?

"We have a new governor and we're living within our means," Cobb responded.

Finance director Loyd said she tried to give supervisors as much information as possible because they're "between a rock and a hard place" in making their decisions.

Supervisors looked at every aspect of the budget, including raising taxes, which drew varying opinions, Bishop said.

"I believe state cost shifts are going to continue in the future, just like the last eight years," she said. "I know the representative [Cobb] said we've got a new governor, but the first thing the new governor did is take from counties. I'm not willing to take that gamble. I'm not willing to take that risk and kick the can down the road. I just don't believe the state is going to give us back millions of dollars next year."