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1:18 AM Sat, Feb. 16th

Property tax increase still on the horizon for Mohave County

KINGMAN - Mohave County residents will see a 15-cent increase in their property tax rate next year as part of the 2016 tentative budget approved 3-2 Monday by the County Board of Supervisors.

Board Chairman Steve Moss and Supervisor Hildy Angius stayed firm in voting against the tax increase, saying the county can draw upon several fund balances to offset the $3.8 million shortfall created by state cost shifts and declining property values.

"I have said in over a 100 different ways during the past month that we do not need to raise taxes this year," Angius said before voting against the increase. "The county has more than enough of your money to cover this year's shortfall. This is about next year and nobody knows that is going to happen next year."

Supervisor Jean Bishop said she refused to be "intimidated" by the Mohave County Republican Party, which strongly encouraged supervisors to vote against any tax increases to balance the budget. A survey by the Arizona Association of Counties found that nine out of 10 counties believe they need to raise property taxes, she said.

Coral Loyd, director of financial services for the county, gave a detailed overview of $72.7 million tentative budget that includes $2.5 million more in property tax revenue and a $3 million shift from the county's vehicle replacement fund, along with about $350,000 added for public safety.

It also includes a "placeholder" of $2.5 million for bills and additional requests the board may receive over the next year. The tentative budget is the ceiling, or maximum amount, supervisors can set for the budget, Loyd noted.

Several residents addressed the board during the public comment period, and they all spoke against the property tax increase. The tax rate will go from $1.81 for every $100 of assessed property value to $1.96.

While it may only amount to $15 or $20 more a year for most people, it's still a burden on residents who are retired and on a fixed income, one woman said.

Charles Gurtler, presiding judge of Mohave County Superior Court, said he felt a quarter-cent sales tax increase would have been the best option, but it needed a unanimous vote by the board, and that wasn't happening. Absent that, the property tax is the only way to fund county services, he said.

Yavapai and Yuma counties are similar in population to Mohave County, and yet they have $2 million more in their budgets, Gurtler said. Mohave County has a smaller staff and still has to provide the same mandated services, he said.

Probationary officers will be taken from juvenile and adult drug courts because those are not mandated services.

"I don't know of any department that agreed to a 5 percent cut," the judge said. "We were told to cut 5 percent. We presented a budget with a 5 percent cut because that was the economic reality of the situation."

Supervisor Gary Watson, who made the motion to approve the tentative budget, said property taxes have been reduced for Mohave County residents over the last few years and he didn't see any "thank you" letters to the board.

Mohave County has an excellent administration and the tax increase is needed in order for the county to remain solvent and not slip into "mediocrity," he said.

"We're looking at 15 cents. It's not a huge amount of money. It's less than a lot of people will spend the next time you go to a restaurant," Watson said.

Supervisor Steve Moss, who proposed an alternative budget with no tax increases, said he understands the need to address budgetary woes, including an understaffed Mohave County Sheriff's Office.

His plan was to take $3.8 million from the vehicle replacement fund to cover the budget shortfall, and move $1.9 million from the TV tax district into the contingency fund.

"I do believe there is a way to get past it this year," Moss said prior to his vote.

The board voted 5-0 to set a truth-in-taxation hearing for Aug. 3, which is the next step in approving the property tax. The final budget is also scheduled for adoption on Aug. 3.