Peach Springs taxpayers get reprieve

Peach Springs Unified School District will have to wait a little longer to pay off its debts.

The Board of Supervisors voted Monday to postpone a decision to raise the district's tax rate from $4 to around $8.50 until Veriti Consulting, the school district's receiver, completes a final report on the financial situation.

A large number of property taxpayers from the school district showed up to voice their disapproval of the proposed tax increase.

"Historically, since Peach Springs has become a school district there has been no accountability as to how money as spent or where the money goes," one resident said. There are many things that don't match what the voters have been told, she said.

Resident Arleen Johnson said a lot of information was missing from Veriti Consulting's letter asking the Board to approve the property tax increase.

"One glaring one was the balance of the loan on the line of credit to Chase," she said.

Veriti reported to the Board that the district had a $1.4 million debt to a construction company, a $250,000 debt to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and $200,000 owed to various vendors. All told, Veriti reported the school district spent $1.4 million more than it had last year.

No Veriti representatives attended Monday's meeting.

Johnson asked the Board to consider delaying a decision on the matter until all of the receiver reports were in and all of the debts were known, "so that we can see what we're really doing instead of what we think we're doing."

Resident Michael Johnson said the report on the financial status of the district had not yet been received from Veriti.

The receiver has 120 days to file a report. Veriti took over the district at the end of August. The final report is due the end of December.

Investment property owner Robert Eagle said approving the increase would make it look like the county was rewarding wrongdoing.

Tax too much of a burden for some

Resident David Panther said because of increasing property tax rates he was preparing to sell some of his property.

"We've invested our savings into land around us. At this time we're going to have to liquidate. One-third of my income is going to taxes. Who would want to buy this property with a tax problem like this?" he asked.

Panther said he owned about 130 acres in three different parcels, his income was about $1,300 a month and his taxes were $4,000.

"I hate to expose myself like this but it's serious. And we're just scared," he said. "It's all been a terrible experience for a number of years. We need your help."

"It is not fair to put everyone in this room in a possible negative situation and possibly extremely detrimental situation ... without having everything in front of you and not knowing how much more damage these people can do to the taxpayers," said Elise Harin.

Another Willow Creek subdivision resident said a lot of people were putting their homes up for sale and leaving because they couldn't afford the taxes.

Bankruptcy an

option?

"We do not have to leave this school district open," resident Karen Kauffman said, noting Hualapai Nation parents can send their children to other schools.

"This district, since it unified in 1994, has had a history, a non-stop history, of mismanagement, malfeasance and unaccountability for their finances. They have failed miserably in their fiduciary responsibly to educate the children within their district ... I'm here to propose we have alternatives to raising our taxes to keep the district open. We can deny any further money into the black hole of malfeasance," she said.

Kauffmann suggested that the Board allow the district to die a natural death through bankruptcy and sell the buildings to the Hialeah Tribe and allow the tribe to create a charter school or do whatever they wanted with the buildings.

Most of the residents in the room applauded Kauffmann's statements.

Supervisor Buster Johnson asked County Attorney Bill Ekstrom if it was possible for the Board to not approve the rate and let the district go into bankruptcy.

Ekstrom suggested that the Board wait until it has all the information on the district, including the report from Veriti, before making a decision.

Ekstrom said he was unsure whether the district would continue to exist or dissolve if it went into bankruptcy. He said that was a question that should be answered by the Veriti.

Supervisor Tom Sockwell said he didn't know where the money went in the district, but before he sent any more money he wanted more information.

Board Chairman Pete Byers recommended that the receiver get an appraisal on the high school and see if the tribe was willing to purchase it.

"We need to keep pressing this issue until it gets resolved," Byers said. "I think its in the best interest of the tribe and everyone that lives there that this gets resolved, because it's only going to fester worse if it doesn't get resolved."