When Payson resident Maggi Parks learned she was paying a big chunk of her taxes for an 11-year-old sewer improvement assessment, she said she knew she was flushing money down the drain.
Armed with that knowledge, she was able to reduce her tax bill by more than 50 percent with one simple phone call.
Parks, a resident of Payson North, was paying her portion of a sewer improvement district a self-imposed tax assessment that was approved by a majority of the subdivision's residents in 1990. The improvement district allowed the Northern Gila County Sanitary District to extend and upgrade the sewer lines in the older Payson neighborhoods that make up Payson North.
"There was never anything secretive about this," Northern Gila County Sanitary District Manager Joel Goode said. "In order for an improvement district to be considered, there have to be public hearings, and then a vote of the people. The majority of the homeowners voted this down twice before it was finally approved."
Once an improvement district is approved, the sanitary district calls for construction estimates and passes the cost of the job on to the homeowners by way of a sewer assessment.
"This particular project ran about $150,000 over the original estimate, and the board of directors at that time decided to eat that cost, rather than pass it on to the homeowners," Goode said.
When the final assessment is determined, the sanitary district sends demands for payment to the affected home owners. The home owners have 30 days to pay their portions of the bill or let it go to bond.
"At that time, they can pay all, some, or none of the assessment," Sharon Owens, office manager for the sanitary district, said. "Of course, the more they pay, the less their annual tax assessment will be."
After the 30-day grace period, the project goes to bond. In the Payson North project, Bank One bought the bond, and the Gila County Treasurer took on the task of collecting the annual payments by way of property taxes.
Just prior to the Payson North project, the sanitary district annexed the Mesa del Caballo subdivision north of town, and bonded that project out for 10 years.
"It was really bad timing, too," Goode said. "When we did the Mesa del project, we were able to get a grant to help reduce the overall cost. By the time Payson North finally approved the improvement district, there were no longer any grants available."
Like Parks, other residents in the Payson North neighborhood, are looking for ways to reduce their overall tax bills.
Resident Dave Rawsthorne said his tax bill for 2001 is $1,038. Of that amount, $604 is for the sewer improvement district.
"We're definitely paying it off next month," Rawsthorne said. "When we do that, our tax bill will drop to about $434 a year."
Pamela Alvino of the Gila County Treasurer's Department said residents who want to pay their sewer assessments off now, have until May 15. That payment, assuming they paid nothing during the prepayment period in 1990, would be $2,617.83.
The only entity getting rich off the process is the bank, Goode said. "We incurred the debt on behalf of the property owners. All of the interest paid on the project goes to the bank."
Parks and Rawsthorne said they urge their Payson North neighbors to take a close look at their tax bill, see how much they're flushing down the toilet, and pay off their sewer assessments as soon as possible.
"By all means," Alvino agreed. "If a homeowner wants to pay off that assessment, they can call us at anytime and we'll be happy to let them know what the payoff is."
To reach the Gila County Treasurer's Office, call (800) 304-4452, ext. 228 for Alvino, or ext. 204 for Debbie Savage.