Column | It’s Rubber Meets The Road Time For County Supervisors

When the Mohave County Board of Supervisors meet Monday, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget will be decided upon.

For the past several months different options have been discussed. Those options included increasing the sales tax and/or the property tax, sweeping the “rainy day” reserves, or doing nothing to bring in additional revenue and biting the bullet for the next year.

The financial difficulties that have come up this past year for the county isn’t completely on the shoulders of its leaders. Blame can be cast up on the state for its many years of taking Highway User Revenue Fund dollars from both counties and cities.

The state made things even more difficult with the way it handled the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. A Maricopa County judge ruled that the state had to increase its contributions significantly to the system after placing a limit on how much it would contribute to elected officials in the past. The state, being prudent to itself, has pushed the new liability onto the counties and cities.

Mohave County is staring at a new $39 million debt now, and the supervisors need at least $1.2 million this year to go toward it.

Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster has expressed issues with his department’s budget after years of conservative budgeting. MCSO could use an additional $1-2 million to meet the issues it has regarding employees.

The option of increasing the sales tax, where a percentage of these additional costs could have been paid by tourists, died weeks ago as Supervisor Buster Johnson (Lake Havasu City) steadfastly refused to raise that tax. The board needed a unanimous vote to do so, and Johnson assured them they would not get it. He has proposed a 3.5 percent across-the-board cut to fund this year’s shortcoming, but some departments are better off than others. This proposal could cause drastic change to the services the county provides to its residents.

Another element to the drama came to be a couple of weeks ago when Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Supervisor Steven Moss (Mohave Valley) to a seat on the Mohave County Superior Court. Moss resigned as supervisor, leaving four to vote on the budget. Should the supervisors not come to an agreement on the budget Monday and stalemate at 2-2, the county would operate on the 2017 budget. It’s fair to say there would be some severe cuts to services.

I happen to be a fan of Supervisor Hildy Angius’ (Bullhead City) proposal to get things done for 2018. She projects a $4.3 million budget shortfall heading into Monday’s meeting, but has come up with about $6.7 million that can be moved from other funds to meet the county’s needs.

Mohave County has put aside funds for contingencies, when there are revenue shortfalls or new and unexpected expenses. Residents with their budgets at home call it a “rainy day fund,” when emergency money is needed. There has been resistance from the bureaucrats about tapping into the rainy day money because they covet having a stash to go to when needed. What I haven’t heard is how much rain has to come down before they’ll call it a “rainy day?”

What is on the table when the supervisors meet is a 52-cent per $100 of property value increase, which needs an unanimous vote.

A 30-cent raise can be passed with a majority vote. If you own property, for every $100,000 your property is assessed you will owe an additional $300 on this year’s tax bill. That should give the county an additional $6 million to meet its obligations.

In reading the tea leaves, I see supervisors Gary Watson (Kingman) and Jean Bishop (Kingman) wanting the 52-cent increase. Johnson doesn’t want any increase, and Angius doesn’t see the need for it.

Something’s got to give come Monday. Here’s to hoping it isn’t the county’s property owners.