County Tax Increase Goes To Help Pay State Deficit

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The county's falling tax rate passed Monday offers little relief for some residents whose increased property values will reflect higher property tax payments.

Star Valley resident Phil Ittel arrived at Supervisor Tommie Martin's Payson office to watch the board set a county tax rate, which for a $100,000 home will cost $392.

Ittel expressed his dissatisfaction with what he called atrociously high property tax bills.

"If I have to pay $3,200 for my 1,900-square-foot house, for my 1.49 acres," Ittel said before Monday's interactively televised board meeting, "what should the federal government pay per acre?"

Ittel advocated shutting county government down to avoid paying for it. Martin, after the meeting, told him that many county services are mandated by law. She also said opening forests to industry could help reduce each resident's financial contribution to county services.

Gila County's relatively miniscule amount -- 3 percent -- of privately owned land equates to a higher per resident financial burden for county services, Martin said.

A Gila County property owner with a $100,000 home will pay an extra $16 for this year's primary property taxes, up to $392.

Ittel, who did not address the entire board, said many of the laws that suffocate county finances -- no financial contributions for federal forest lands, for instance -- should be changed.

"We Americans passed the law," he said. "We Americans can change it and if we cannot, then something is gravely wrong." He added that he believes elected officials should fight for the change.

Ittel also said the county assessor should judge the value of federal land, for which the federal government should then compensate the county.

Deputy County Manager John Nelson, presented during the meeting, what he called "property tax 101," which included an overview of taxes and assessments, and an explanation of why taxes are rising although the rate is falling.

"This is probably the most misunderstood thing we do all year," Nelson said.

The county's tax rate has dropped every year since 2005, when it was $4.41 per $1,000.

However, the total collected will increase 4 percent. Voters, in 2006, capped annual increases at 2 percent. Nelson said that since the county did not ask for an increase last year, it is legally allowed to ask for 4 percent this year.

The extra $792,524 collected through property taxes mostly pays the $725,000 Gila County must give to the state to help it balance its budget, Martin has said.

This year, of the $58.4 million collected through primary and secondary property tax levies, the county will receive 34 percent, down from last year's 35 percent. School districts will collect 32 percent, the community college gets 5 percent, and cities and towns just over 3 percent.

Of the 46 tax levies, 38 are set by elected boards including water districts and fire districts.

Assessed values of existing properties jumped 9.1 percent for fiscal year 2009. Nelson attributed some of that to the mines' resurgence in southern Gila County. Total assessed values for fiscal year 2009 were $513.4 million, up from $453 million last year.

Payson has the county's highest assessed full cash value, at $250.9 million, but charges the lowest property tax rate with the exception of Star Valley which charges no tax rate. Supervisor Shirley Dawson said Star Valley's photographic radar helps the town make money.

Countywide, new construction values leveled off this year at $18.9 million. Last year, they jumped to $17.5 million from $11.2 million.

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