By Tammy Gray
Despite protests from a member of the public and District III Supervisor Sylvia Allen, the Navajo County Board of Supervisors approved the first step in a property tax rate increase Tuesday. A final vote on the issue will be held on Aug. 12.
During a public hearing only one citizen came forward to protest the proposed increase.
Supervisor Allen also opposed the higher rate, noting that other taxes are also increasing, and it places an unfair burden on businesses and low-income residents of the county. She also told the board that she believes there are better ways to balance the budget, such as cutting expenditures or relying on federal funding.
“I support the raises for employees, but my vote is based on comparing the large budget to the percentage that we’re out of line,” she said.
According to Allen, the tax increase will make up for a 3.5 percent deficit in the county’s $120.8 million budget.
Staff members told the board that uncertainty regarding federal payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) funding has forced the county to raise property taxes to make up the difference in case the money is not received.
Allen told the board that it does appear as though the county will receive PILT funds this fiscal year, but by that time it will be too late to undo the tax increase.
The new property tax rate will be set at .8185 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The primary property tax rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year was .6996 cents per $100. The difference is expected to bring in just over $530,000 in additional revenue over the course of the fiscal year. According to county staff, a home with an assessed value of $100,000 will pay an additional $11 per year under the new rate.
Allen pointed out that the county is not the only entity raising taxes, that increased taxes have a negative impact on businesses, and that once set the rate was unlikely to be decreased even if the county receives PILT funds and does not need to continue assessing the higher rate.
District IV Supervisor David Tenney explained that he does not believe there are any other fiscally responsible solutions. He noted that PILT funding is uncertain and therefore was not included in the budget. He also pointed out that other actions by the state and federal governments have left the county in a difficult position.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, but considering the things that have been handed down by the state and federal governments I feel it’s unwise to include PILT in the budget,” he said. “I feel we are doing here what has to be done.”
Supervisors gave the first of two required approvals to the tax rate increase in a 3-1 vote, with Tenney, Chairman Jesse Thompson and Supervisor Dawnafe Whitesinger voting in favor of the increase and Allen casting the lone vote against it. Supervisor Jonathon Nez was not present.
Board members also approved the final version of the $120.8 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The budget is based on the property tax increase and includes the first pay increase for county employees in several years.
In other action July 22, the board:
* Approved a merger of the Linden, Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside fire districts.
* Approved an amendment to an agreement with the Arizona Department of Health Services to extend the Arizona Nutrition Network Program through September 2015.
* Approved polling places and poll workers for the upcoming primary election, and canceled elections for precinct committee positions in which the number of candidates was equal to or less than the number of open positions.
* Approved abatement of personal property taxes for property unable to be located, such as mobile homes built in the 1970s that have since been relocated or destroyed.
* Approved the expenditure of up to $4,041 in matching funds for a $16,163 grant received by the juvenile probation department. The funds will be used to provide counseling services.
* Approved revisions to the county’s accident review policy. The new policy outlines procedures and potential discipline for employees involved in automobile accidents.
* Awarded a contract to Roadside Traffic Systems for pavement markings.
* Awarded a contract to Fann Contracting for crushing red dog material.
The next regular board meeting is scheduled at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 12, at the county complex in Holbrook.