County, state disagree on budget sweeps
KINGMAN – When state Sen. Sonny Borrelli hears Mohave County officials crying about budget sweeps, it reminds him of his grandmother who told him he was a spoiled child anytime he complained about not having something.
She would relate the tale of the woman who had a nice fat ham under one arm, and complained because she had no bread.
That’s how Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu, sees it when the county shells out several thousand dollars for a second ice machine at Development Services, spends HURF money on a new Public Works building and approves a 5 percent salary increase for “hot jobs.”
Then Mohave County supervisors turn around and blame legislators for “cost-sharing” sweeps of Highway User Revenue Funds and general funds to help balance the state budget.
They use it as the reason behind Monday’s 3-2 vote to adopt a tentative budget that would raise property tax rates by 26 percent, from $1.96 to $2.48 for every $1,000 of property value.
They said it’s either that or a quarter-cent sales tax, which would require a unanimous vote from the board, and Supervisor Buster Johnson has made it clear he would not support it. He voted against the property tax.
“I think there’s a little bit of confusion over some of the details,” Borrelli said Thursday in a phone interview from Phoenix. “You can only manage what you can.”
Borrelli said he was “under the impression” that the state Legislature gave back $30 million in HURF sweeps to cities and counties each year since he was elected as a representative in 2013.
Mohave County also received $550,000 in lottery money this year.
State Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she was “very disappointed” in the supervisors’ decision to raise property taxes for the tentative budget. A public hearing on the budget is set for Aug. 7 prior to final adoption.
Cobb said she worked hard to put $30 million in HURF money back into county coffers, along with $8 million for juvenile detention and $1.5 million for indigent defense. She also mentioned the lottery funds.
“We got more money back this year than we had in the last 10 years and this is the year we raise 25 percent on property taxes?” she said. “When you consider we’re a snowbird county, we have a lot of part-timers and they don’t pay property taxes. If you’re going to increase anything, it should be sales (tax).”
As chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Welfare, Cobb helped formulate the state budget and said the county got a “little more bang for the buck” with their state representative.
On the issue of HURF funds, Cobb said that money was supposed to be spent on road improvements, though supervisors were talking about using it for salary increases.
“I’m very disappointed we did the property tax. We should have done the sales tax, if we’re going to do anything. You’ve got to go deeper, turn over cushions, look under rocks,” the state representative said.
Another bone of contention is the state’s $7.7 billion shortfall in the Public Safety Retirement Pension System, of which Mohave County is on the hook for about $21 million.
Legislators tinkered more with the system in 2016, splitting the program into two plans and putting new officers into a 401(k) plan.
Once again, the state puts future liability on local taxpayers, Johnson said. The struggling Elected Officials Retirement Plan, which includes judges’ retirement funds, is a $19 million drag on the local economy.
The City of Kingman is getting a bill for $46 million, Bullhead City $46 million and Lake Havasu City $100 million.
Johnson hasn’t shied away from criticizing the state’s lack of integrity concerning living within its own means.
County supervisors wanted to implement the quarter-cent sales tax to be used strictly for improvement, maintenance and construction of county roads, which are in a serious state of deterioration.
But there’s no guarantee the state won’t step in and “steal” that money to cover its own overspending and mismanagement, Johnson said.
“County and city elected officials have gotten so used to being mugged by state officials that they have bowed to the Capitol sheiks and praised them for not taking more local funds,” the District 3 supervisor said.
“If our county raises the sales tax for highway funds, our local state representatives can continue their misleading pledge of ‘no new taxes,’ while criticizing individual supervisors as ‘tax and spend liberals,’ all the while knowing they can sweep that money for their own general fund spending. They’ve raised the act of hypocrisy to an art form.”