Two Strawberry residents think northern Gila County property owners are being asked to shoulder the lion's share of the tax burden, and they are asking other concerned residents to help them do something about it.
Al Vancel and Gerald Eisele protested their valuations last year, and think they were stonewalled by the county assessor's office.
"They don't tell you you're entitled to a hearing," Vancel said.
"Then, when you do insist on a hearing, all three supervisors have to be there, and so does (Gila County Assessor) Dale Hom. It's quite a group," he said.
"They finally agreed to let Gerry and I appear together, but there was no way they were going to do anything for anybody in this part of the county. We got almost nothing."
Eisele said he was told by a county official that because of lost tax revenue from declining copper prices, the county plans to double valuations in northern Gila County over the next five years. "They refer to us as the Scottsdale of Gila County," he said.
Eisele, who moved here in 1995 after retiring from the federal government, is also a licensed real estate agent and a member of the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department Board of Directors. He thinks $1,480 a year is too much to pay in property taxes for his 1,300-square-foot cabin in the mountains.
"Rich people can pay that kind of money," Eisele said. "But a working guy like me retires, and all your money ends up going for taxes."
Hom said there is absolutely no conspiracy against any part of the county.
"I am employed by the entire county," he said.
Residents of northern Gila County just have to realize that their property values are relatively higher than places that are economically depressed, he said.
"The value is what it is," Hom said. "Basically it is what the property is worth. It's a function of what the economy is doing. When the economy is in an upward trend, values will go up."
Hom said his office periodically takes a look at values based on the cost of materials, construction costs, the prices houses are selling for in a given area, and other factors. "Like everybody in the state, we use the Marshall-Swift guidelines, which provide a base component for an assessing system," he said.
District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen agreed.
"The value of the property in the entire county has gone up," he said, "but because of all the new construction, this is particularly true of northern Gila County. For years, the mining industry carried the ball for everybody, but they've fallen on hard times," the supervisor said. "And we have to remember that because only one-half of 1 percent of the land in northern Gila County is privately owned, it is very valuable."
Hom said that because of the depressed mining industry, the tax rate is actually higher in the southern part of the county.
"If you've never been to Hayden or Winkelman, you'd be surprised at how poor that area is," he said.
Schools and other services still have to be provided, and when the mines are paying less, property owners will pay more. The tax rate in the Hayden-Winkelman area is three times higher than it is in the Rim country, Christensen said.
But he also encourages any homeowner who thinks a valuation is wrong to come into the assessor's office and talk about it which is exactly what Vancel and Eisele are encouraging northern Gila County property owners to do.
They think that if the system is overwhelmed by hundreds of disgruntled residents asking for a hearing, it will make the county sit up and take notice.
"We want people to fill out a residential petition for review of valuation," Vancel said. "They put in what they think their property should be assessed at, and it will come back turned down. Then they need to call the board of equalization and request a hearing. If enough people do that, the system will get buried."
Vancel, who moved to Strawberry nine years ago, said property owners can find out how much comparable houses in their neighborhoods are assessed at by simply calling the assessor's office and giving them the addresses of those houses.
"That will give them some idea if theirs is too high," he said.
Vancel and Eisele are getting the word out to residents in Pine and Strawberry, and they have contacted the Citizens Awareness Committee, a local political action group, for additional support. The deadline for protesting your valuation is April 17.