County Oks 3.2 Percent Tax Increase

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Citing rising costs and a sluggish shared state sales tax, the Gila County Board of Supervisors approved a 3.2 percent primary property tax increase of $452,513 at its Aug. 6 meeting giving the county the third highest tax rate in the state and raising the total to $28,840,251.

"Our economy nationally and statewide has been experiencing the very same decline in sales tax revenues," District One Supervisor Ron Christensen said Monday, "and so have Apache, Navajo, Greenlee and Graham counties. That doesn't give you a whole lot of comfort, but at least it lets you know that you're not the only one out there with this problem."

The supervisors and the county's finance department plan to "very carefully monitor" the budget every month "to see how we're lining up," Christensen said.

Also Tuesday, the supervisors put their official stamp of approval on a "down to the bone" $57,373,234 budget for fiscal year 2002-2003. That approval came with "very minor changes from the draft," Christensen said. "There was a small change put forward by the Superior Court system in respect to personnel, one individual who it was decided could not be done without, and that was all.

"We do have a tight budget, and we do have a concern over revenues holding up because we're still seeing the effects of the sales tax revenues, which are still in a slow decline," he said. "In the future, we'll have to make some adjustments, but they wouldn't affect the bottom line in the budget; they would be adjustments within departments."

The new county budget calls for a general fund increase of $170,253 (to $28,840,251) and an overall budget increase of 9.9 percent (or $5,156,373) over the previous fiscal year.

In the past flat-revenue year, Gila County saw cost increases totaling about $800,000 resulting in part from a new AHCCCS/ALTCS health tax ($223,198), county employee health insurance ($200,000), and a federal government mandate to improve prisoner health care within the Gila County Sheriff's Department ($150,000).

To offset the cost increases without raising property taxes, a variety of cutbacks were made, including 11 position reductions and employee charges for medical coverage once paid for by the county.

The general fund is comprised 46 percent of property taxes, 28 percent of other taxes, 12 percent intergovernmental, 11 percent of "other costs," and three percent of fund balance.

It grew over the past year by $817,954, with increases in such budgetary categories as primary/general elections ($100,000), out-of-county tuition ($62,356), general insurance ($55,000), and capital improvements ($2,046,000) and road funds ($11,296,017).

Also at Tuesday's board of supervisors' meeting, the Library District Board of Directors convened to formally adopt a $785,893 budget for the Gila County Library District's 2002-2003 fiscal year.

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