Property Tax Increases With New Budget

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The residents of Gila County will feel the country's real estate boom when they receive their tax bills next year.

The county board of supervisors approved a tentative budget of $66.2 million at a special meeting July 18.

To meet the budget expenditures, the county anticipates bringing in $72.69 million of revenue from property taxes, other sources (from grants and the state), and funds carried over from the 2004-2005 fiscal year. Approximately $17 million of that is derived from property taxes.

Property owners can expect an additional 12 cents per $100 of assessed value, slightly increasing the county's 2005-2006 budget. Overall property values went up 2.78 percent or $10.18 million this past year.

"The assessed value is market based," said John Nelson, deputy county manager. "In northern Gila County the actual average increase in value was 4.2 percent and in the south it was 2.7."

The increase means a home valued at $100,000, will garner a total of $441 in primary property taxes instead of the $429 paid in 2004-2005.

Special taxes for school, fire, sanitary and other districts or municipalities are levied separately from property taxes. County, schools and fire districts cap the amount they can raise taxes, however, no such restrictions are imposed on other special districts.

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John Nelson

For instance, the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District plans to double taxes for its members.

"The individual districts pretty much do what they want," said Nelson.

District 1 Supervisor Tommie Martin said a small portion of the land in Gila County is taxed.

"Only 3 percent of our land is privately controlled and half of that is held by the mines, so one-and-a-half (1.5) percent of the land is bearing the whole burden," Martin said.

Over the past 10 years, as mines have closed down, private residents in northern Gila County have shouldered more and more of the county's property taxes said Nelson.

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Tommie Martin

In 1995 mines and utilities generated 42 percent of the county's revenues; property taxes on homes and small businesses provided the other 58 percent.

Now mines and utilities contribute 12 percent while homes and businesses foot 88 percent of the bill -- 70 percent of which is from northern Gila County.

"We're one fire away from being a bankrupt county," Martin said. "I don't know how you would recover. And it could happen."

The break down

Health, welfare and sanitation receive the biggest increase -- 16.12 percent; Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System gets 2.64 percent, the smallest boost, followed closely by general government at 3.13 percent.

Education and recreation go up about 10 percent, and judicial services combined with law enforcement soaks up 22.3 percent more funding.

"I'm calling this the law-and-order budget," Nelson said. "Most of our additional funds will go to the sheriff, county attorney and courts. Everything else is bare bones."

The sheriff's department will use the additional money to add detention officers and make salaries more competitive with other law enforcement agencies.

"We're about 10 percent behind the rural county average," Martin said. "We're afraid of losing our experienced officers to other agencies."

The county pays correction officers somewhere in the mid-$30,000 range, she said, about $10,000 less than officers in the private sector.

"We have the highest per capita bookings in our jails," Nelson said.

"Our jail facilities were obsolete before they were built," Martin added.

Contemporary jails are generally circular, allowing fewer officers to supervise inmates. Meanwhile, Gila County's jails are linear, and detention officers must spread out to oversee inmates.

"You need almost as many detention officers as you have prisoners," Martin said.

Nelson said the new budget provides for 10 additional detention officers; an additional person for each justice court, along with increased salaries; and additional personnel for the county attorney's child support enforcement office.

The supervisors will meet at 10 a.m., Monday, Aug. 1 to fulfill the state's Truth-in-Taxation statute, followed by modification and adoption of the 2005-2006 budget.

To learn more about the county budget process, call (928) 474-2029.

Budget breakdown

Gila County 2005-2006 at a glance

Law enforcement: $8.85 million

Judicial services: $6.8 million

General government: $5.45 million

AHCCCS: $4.58 million

Transfers out: $3.27 million

Health, welfare and sanitation: $3.01 million

Contingencies: $1.25 million

Education and recreation: $550,293

Reserves: $100,000

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