BISBEE — Over the past several years, the county Board of Supervisors has been avoiding any increase of the county’s property tax rates, and that will continue into the next fiscal year.
Daniel Duchon, county budget manager, provided an overview of the county’s property tax revenues at a work session May 19 and told Supervisors Tom Borer, Ann English and Peggy Judd due to the property valuations the county could expect another $845,000 in revenue from the levy at the current rate of 2.6747 per $100 of valuation.
Current property valuations increased by over $19.427 million and new construction accounted for over $12 million, bringing the total valuations for the 2020–2021 fiscal year to $973.084 million. Property tax also account for 47 percent of the entire budget.
The library property tax is also affected by the valuation and an increase of $45,849 in revenue will be collected at the current rate of 0.1451 per $100 of valuation. This levy supports the county’s library system and rural libraries.
The Flood Control District increased valuations will add another $75,000 to the fund at its current rate of 0.2597 per $100 of valuation. Taxes collected for this fund are used solely to pay for projects needed to control flooding issues in the unincorporated areas of the county.
However, Duchon and County Administrator Ed Gilligan emphasized not all the money from property tax is collected and comes in at particular times of the year.
Gilligan said, “We never collect 100 percent of the taxes. We can budget for it, but we’re going on faith most will be collected.”
In the past, between five to eight percent of property taxes were delinquent and he was concerned the rate could be higher due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Gilligan added.
Duchon predicted a five to 10 percent decrease in other revenues, which account for 16 percent of the budget. This revenue accounts for detention fees, recorder fees, permit and inspection fees and myriad other fees. He anticipates a nearly $500,000 decrease in justice court fees and fines, and a $30,000 decrease in superior court fees and fines over the next fiscal year.
Though retail sales tax through March remained on track and may have provided a bit of wiggle room, the mid-March through April and May fallout from the shutdown has yet to be clear, Duchon explained. Sales tax receipts are always two months behind, so it will be June, the final month of the fiscal year, before they know how bad the impact will be.
The Arizona Department of Transportation, which collects the gas tax and disburses it to counties and municipalities, has suggested a 6.3 percent drop in funding for the next fiscal year. The vehicle license tax is also expected to decline.
If the situation is worse than predicted, Gilligan said there were ways to negotiate the downturn by not hiring vacant positions, no pay raises and postponing projects.
Borer suggested recognizing employees with some sort of award rather than raises.
“We don’t want to walk ourselves into a corner,” Borer said.
If worse comes to worse, the supervisors could agree to using contingency funds as a last resort. They have been reluctant to use any of those funds, which are saved for county emergencies.
English said, “I believe in paying good workers. The idea is to keep productive people and pay them well. There are rumblings that we should put our savings on the table. I disagree. It should never be spent to keep people on staff.”
Borer agreed, as did Gilligan, who said, “Once the savings are gone, they’re gone. They’re hard to replace. The contingency is meant for a one–time emergency event, not a multi–year problem. It could expose the county to a massive liability. We don’t want to be the county that has to borrow money to pay bills.”
English said she was not averse to borrowing money, but not to pay for staff.
Duchon pointed out there were three or four staff who were in grant-funded positions which are coming to a close.
Borer suggested every department head tell such staff their positions depend on the grant funds and when funding runs out, their jobs are at risk.
“People need to understand this from the start”, Borer continued. “Though some department heads want to retain those employees, it’s unsustainable.”
Gilligan emphasized, “There are things we can shut down. Money normally spent in July could be held off. We can make adjustments.”
There were a number of requests from the justice courts, a total of nearly $500,000, which the presiding judge did not approve, so they were removed from consideration.
The Sheriff’s Office also withdrew requests totaling $948,141, but held to requests for overtime, holiday and comp time funding totaling $751,460.
Carrie Langley, Cochise Health and Social Services director, asked the supervisors to fund vector surveillance to monitor mosquitos for health risks such the Zika virus, encephalitis, West Nile virus and Dengue fever at a cost of $46,225. She pointed out the problems people who could arrive in the county from other countries with a diseases can spread it to biting mosquitoes, creating a path back to humans.
Borer asked to see the budget in its entirety instead of getting it piecemeal.
English said, “We’re going to have to wait and see how much money we have to move forward.”