County: New Tax Dollars Only Way To Pay For Improvements

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Two ballot measures and seven days will determine the fate of the proposed county jail and courthouse improvements.

Gila County voters will decide on Nov. 6 whether increased sales tax will pay for the jails portion of the project and whether general obligation bonds will be purchased using primary property tax for the courthouse expansions.

If both measures are approved, sales tax across the county will be increased one-half cent on discretionary items such as clothing, dining out, whiskey and cigarettes and other items. Homeowners will pay an additional $21 per year in property tax on a $100,000 home for the next 30 years.

The Jails Committee recommended these methods of payment for the facilities after months of research. The Gila County Board of Supervisors agreed with the committee's recommendations -- they were approved in May.

Supervisor Tommie Martin said the county must pay for these facilities using tax money, because there is no other way for them to be funded.

"We are going to pay for this with tax dollars, period," she said.

Members of a political action committee opposed to raising taxes, Citizens for Fair Taxation, say the county needs to come up with another solution.

The group's chair, Leon Keddington, said the county needs to adjust its budget.

"We advocate that elected officials, both north and south, come together and create a plan for the entire county without raising taxes at all," he said. "The county looked at exactly two ways to fund this -- taxes and more taxes."

"I believe that there is enough fluff in the budget not to raise taxes. The county needs to set priorities and find the money to fund those priorities."

Martin said readjusting the county budget would not allow for the project to be done in a timely manner.

"We have a $70 million budget," she said. "$40 million of that is restricted funds. $10 million goes to run the jails now. $10 million goes to run the courts. $10 million runs the rest of the county -- the assessor, the school superintendent, the roads, all of it. In that $10 million, there might be a million that is discretionary. That million we could pull into this conversation. And in 40 years have the $40 million that it would cost today to build this."

Martin said the county's fiscal responsibility and $10 million savings would save taxpayers money.

"With that $10 million cushion, we can go out and get the lowest interest rate available," she said.

While not part of the ballot measures, the location that the jails committee recommended to the board of supervisors is another issue Keddington has with the project.

Keddington said in his experience working for the city of Los Angeles, vacant land was more cost effective than rebuilding.

"Eminent domain can't possibly be cost-effective. We want the county to re-examine the sites. There are several sites better than Main Street," he said.

Keddington suggested a plat of land on North Tyler Parkway as well as land adjacent to the Payson Town Hall complex.

Martin said the county is not sold on the Main Street site and only supports it because it is the most cost-effective site for the project.

"If we can find another location as cost effective, we'll take it," she said. "Even with eminent domain, this location is still cheaper than buying another location and putting in the infrastructure and building the 36,000 square feet we're already in."

Martin said two measures are being used to pay for the project for several reasons.

"The county could have funded them both with secondary property tax, but the committee felt that homeowners should have the chance to put some of the cost on sales tax. It's the best deal for property owners," she said.

State law says the sales tax method cannot be used to build courts, she said.

"A county can only do jails, with Arizona state law, with sales tax. We can't do courts with it."

If both measures fail next Tuesday, the county would "go back to the drawing board," Martin said. "There's already property tax to do it with," she added.

If one measure is approved and one fails, the county will still figure out a way to construct the facilities, Martin said.

"If either of these fails, we're still going to build jails and court space somewhere, between now and 20 years from now," she said. "We're never going to be cheaper than it is right now. This is the only way to do it and not raise primary property taxes."

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