By Linda Kor–
The Navajo County Community College District Governing Board held a Truth in Taxation hearing May 17 that resulted in a heated discussion regarding the purpose and method utilized to impose a property tax increase on the citizens of Navajo County.
According to the formula for Truth in Taxation, the increase in primary property taxes would come to $249,031, or two percent annually. According to the calculation provided by statute, this would mean a property with an assessed valuation of $100,000 would see an increase in taxes from $121.44 to $123.97, or a difference of $2.43.
Northland Pioneer College Vice President of Administrative Services Blaine Hatch explained that the funds generated would ensure that the college has contingency funds in the event that funding from the state should be reduced in the coming years or removed altogether. He also noted that capital projects for construction of a new welding facility and two skills centers at the Holbrook and White Mountain campuses in the next year would require funding.
Questions regarding the need to utilize the maximum levy amount were raised by board member Dusty Parsons, who does not believe the college needs the funds that would be generated from the increase, citing funds in excess of $7 million that would be carried over from this fiscal year and that could amount to up to $9 million the following year. He also found fault in the formula required by state statute regarding Truth in Taxation.
He noted that by his calculations, the increase in taxes would not be two percent, but 9.3 percent when using current figures. “Is $121.44 the rate today? Right now it is $113.52, with new growth it’s $121.44. To increase it to the $123.97 you’re talking about an increase of 9.3 percent. That will be $700,000 collected by the college, not the $249,031 stated here. In reality, we’re just doing this because we can,” he stated.
Parsons emphasized that he was not faulting the college or the administration for the formula mandated by statute, but he did believe that the college was burdening the taxpayer for funds that the college did not need.
“In reality the board doesn’t need to ask for this increase. If there were no new growth, then there would be no need for a hearing. This is misleading. Right now I’m paying $113.52, next year I pay $123, that is a 9.3 percent increase. That is reality,” he added.
Hatch agreed that the formula for Truth in Taxation is confusing and is based on the expectation that assessed valuations would continue to rise, but with the decrease in assessed valuations those figures changed, with new growth bringing the figure up.
During the request for public comment six Navajo County residents, all from the Show Low area, voiced their opposition to the tax increase, each citing concerns of over taxation during a lean economy and the need to reduce costs at the college.
Roy Reissner informed the board that he lives on a fixed income and was just recently able to obtain a part-time job.
“If you don’t need the money, then why are you levying the taxes?” he asked Hatch.
When Hatch offered no response, Board Chairman Bill Jeffers stated that Reissner had the choice of not paying the taxes.
Reissner agreed, stating, “Yeah, I could do that, and I would lose my house. You’re up there like nothing’s happening and you already have millions in surplus,” he said.
Other residents questioned some of the classes being offered at the college, such as yoga and knife making, asking why the college did not remove those classes and focus on career oriented classes as a measure to save budget funds so a tax increase would not be needed.
Ron Matkin stated that he wasn’t opposed to raising taxes as long as the money would be used efficiently. “I am for education, but I’m looking at some of the frivolous classes offered and I look at my tax bill. Sure you’re only talking a couple bucks per valuation but then I look down the list to see six, seven, eight people asking for money. Pretty soon it’s a substantial amount,” he stated.
Board member Ginny Handorf, who later made the motion for the increase, took that opportunity to state why she was in support of the tax.
“Nobody on this board voted on an increase because we could. Actually, it’s all that we can. If the situation gets worse then we can’t do any more than this. Last year we lost $2 million in state funding and $1.5 million from NAVIT (Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology), but we made it through. We have been cutting. We have cut programs and made changes to curriculum. We didn’t spend capital funds yet, but we will need to. If we carefully manage then we need to provide savings, otherwise, we become like the government and go deeply into debt,” said Handorff.
She went on to state that the college is the only community college serving the 22,000 square miles of this county, as well as portions of Apache County. “If this college falls, higher education for this entire region falls. We only have four sites and it’s a long distance from Whiteriver to Holbrook. We are always in the lowest range for (costs) the state,” she added.
Jeffers noted that he was in support of the increase in order to avoid going out to bond, which would be even more costly to the taxpayer.
After considering the comments provided, the board gave final approval for a two percent property tax increase despite comments in opposition from the audience. Those voting in favor of the measure were Handorf, Louella Nahsonhoya and Jeffers, with Parsons and Daniel Peaches voting against it.