Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.
KINGMAN – Playing upon the no-tax policy of conservative Republicans, Mohave County Supervisor Steve Moss said both of his grandfathers would have taken him behind the woodshed for the very thought of increasing taxes to balance the county budget.
They would also tell him that paying interest is for fools.
That’s why Moss is intent on paying down the county’s $39 million unfunded liability for retirement pensions. He doesn’t want interest payments going to banks in Phoenix, New York or London.
Speaking Monday to the Conservative Republican Club of Kingman, Moss said supervisors have kept every possible funding mechanism on the table in the tentative budget for fiscal 2018.
The county is looking at a $2.8 million budget deficit, not including the pension debt and money needed to bring the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office up to par on staffing.
The board has discussed a number of options to cover the shortfall, including a 52-cent increase in property tax rates, quarter-cent sales tax, sweeps of “unrestricted” funds and further cuts to each department.
Each supervisor is going to present a budget plan at the regular board meeting set for July 17, Moss said.
“I don’t know what that’ll be, but there’s not going to be a 52-cent property tax on top of a quarter-cent sales tax on top of cuts and sweeps,” he said. “Any supervisor can balance the budget. However, it takes three supervisors to agree on it.”
Moss’s idea is to use a combination of methods.
The county’s Employee Benefits Trust is overfunded, so payments can be cut by $600,000 there. Another $1.8 million can be swept from unrestricted funds such as the library district and TV district, Moss mentioned.
He proposes to use the quarter-cent sales tax to pay down the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, or PSPRS, by $6 million to $7 million a year. Otherwise, the county will pay 7.4 percent interest on $40 million of debt, and the final total could end up over $100 million.
The county is on the hook for about $20 million for PSPRS, and $19 million for the Elected Officials Retirement Plan. It’s going to be paid, one way or another, Moss said.
“So we have to find a dedicated revenue stream on that, or the number goes up and up and up and before you know it, we’ll be like the state of Illinois,” he said. That state’s government alone owes $83 billion to its pension funds.
The quarter-cent sales tax requires a unanimous vote by the board, and Supervisor Buster Johnson has vowed to vote against any tax increases.
“I hope it’s 5-0 for the sales tax. It’s our only hope,” Moss said. “If we reach a consensus on Monday, that’s wonderful. Otherwise, it’s Aug. 7.”
Supervisor Jean Bishop, who attended the Republican club meeting, disagrees with Supervisors Hildy Angius and Johnson over how to cover the budget deficit. It’s going to be a mix of several options, she said.
“My first wish is the sales tax. That by far is my favorite choice,” Bishop said. “If not, I’m willing to increase the property tax.”
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