Supervisors discuss property taxes with tentative budget

Supervisor Gary Watson

Supervisor Gary Watson

Mohave County’s new budget will raise property taxes by nearly the limit set by law.

In a split vote, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors passed a tentative county budget that, if approved in its final form, will increase property taxes by 52 cents. The lion’s share of that, 25 cents, will go to the sheriff’s department. Supervisors Buster Johnson and Hildy Angius cast dissenting votes.

The tentative budget calls for 14 cents generated by a property tax increase going to the county’s $2.5 million deficit. It also calls for 5 cents to finish construction on the courthouse, 1 cent for the probation department, 25 cents for the sheriff department, and 7 cents to make interest only payments to the $20 million Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) debt.

“This is the tentative budget. It’s not the … final budget we can do anything we want in a downward direction,” supervisor Steve Moss said.

A public hearing on the tentative budget is scheduled for Aug. 7 prior to a special board meeting and adoption of a final version.

In an hour-long discussion, board members weighed the pros and cons of three budget proposals that included the adoption of a countywide quarter-cent sales tax, an increase in property taxes that originally earmarked 5 cents for the sheriff’s department, and no money to service the PSPRS debt.

The budget proposal was carried over from the board’s June 5 meeting in order to give staff enough time to present the three options.

“Subsequent to our (June 5) discussions we became aware of the need to include within our revenue sources an Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections one time reimbursement,” said Coral Loyd, Mohave County director of financial services. “This was something that was previously swept by the state and a partial reimbursement was included for fiscal year 2017-18, or $250,500.”

Additional general fund impact of $17,514 also was realized from changes made to public health’s compensation schedule and the reclassification of job titles in the assessor’s office for a savings of $11,239.

“This resulted in the adjusted budget deficit (down from $2.8 million),” Loyd said.

As originally proposed, a 25 cent property tax increase would eliminate the deficit; generate $870,000 for sheriff department salary needs, raise $174,000 for probation department salaries, and $870,000, saved over four years, to finish construction on the courthouse. An increase in sales tax will not be used for construction on the county’s new animal shelter.

“With the property tax as calculated with those budgeted expenses, we were able to balance the budget, so there was no structural deficit and the fund balance would remain the same,” Loyd said.

Moss called for the sheriff’s piece of the property tax pie to be raised by an additional 20 cents, a motion seconded by Supervisor Jean Bishop and supported by Supervisor Gary Watson.

Had the supervisors voted for a sales tax, requiring a unanimous vote, it would have raised $6.5 million with up to $4 million used to bolster sheriff department salaries. It also would have included $700,000 annual payments toward the PSPRS debt, $1.2 million used for over-payments made by county employees to the pension fund, and $600,000 annual contribution rate increases to the PSPRS.

“Combining the new income and a the appropriations as discussed then would cure the $2.5 million deficit except to the tune of $700,004,” Loyd said. “It would not include specified funding for the indigent defense capital cases and major maintenance. This is how we arrived at the $700,004.”

The third option, a no tax increase, would have forced the supervisors to find money to cover the deficit.

Under this proposal, it would have removed the general fund payment for the court settlement that mandates the $1.2 million for overpayments made by county employees to the pension fund and instead delay the payment for one year.

The no tax option would also remove $200,000 in general fund appropriations tagged for legal services that include representation regarding water issues, and $1.1 million coming out of the $2 million contingency fund to create a balanced budget.

Under this proposal, no money would be used to finished construction on the courthouse or the animal shelter.

This option, Loyd said, did not include any money to pay down the more than $20 million PSPRS debt.