Gila County Tax Hike Closes Gap But ‘Raises Eyebrows’

2 percent rise will cost $8 on $100,000 home, but helps offset state cuts, projects

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Tommie Martin Gila County supervisor

Gila County supervisors adopted a $100 million budget and a 2 percent tax increase Tuesday that maintains services despite state cuts.

Deputy County Manager John Nelson acknowledged that the proposal to float an $8 million bond for a new public works facility and women’s jail was “raising some eyebrows.”

But he said that low interest rates and construction costs make right now a great time to build. “Why rent when you can buy?” he asked. “It’s really that simple.”

Two residents spoke opposing the county’s budget.

“I have never been so disappointed in county government as I am today,” said Claypool resident Ruben Mancha. “A lot of people are losing their homes and filing for bankruptcy,” he said. Other counties are streamlining, cutting services and laying off staff. “This county is in a building frenzy,” he said.

Globe resident Terry Moya said the county should cut taxes, not increase them. He said that some residents will “be taking a double dip” from both increased city and county taxes. “Just because we have the authority to levy these taxes does not mean we turn around and do that,” Moya said.

The 2 percent tax increase will collect an additional $440,000 countywide, and cost a property owner with a $100,000 home an extra $8 per year, for a total of $375.

“I am looking at our property tax increase as keeping up with inflation and nothing more,” Nelson said.

“None of us want to increase taxes,” said Supervisor Shirley Dawson. Both she and Supervisor Tommie Martin said the county should conduct better outreach so people understand how counties must budget.

The budget accounts for all possible sources of revenue, even those that may not arrive, said Nelson. “It is not a spending plan.”

If the county does not allocate specific funds, it cannot spend them. Last year, the county spent $56.5 million of its $91 million budget.

The budget calls for balancing a $2 million deficit with reserves, and the county expects to have roughly $5 million in reserves by the end of fiscal year 2010. It also has $5 million in cash flow reserve, but that money is necessary to tide the county over as it waits for income from property taxes, for instance.

The $9 million in proposed construction — financed by an $8 million bond and $1 million in state highway funds — will allow the county to build a much discussed women’s jail and also buy the Highway 260 building in Payson it now rents.

The county will also refinance $1.4 million in current debt at lower interest rates.

“I would much rather be building a school, or adding onto the community college,” Dawson said. She has spoken fervently on the need for a new women’s jail.

Martin said, “We’re on the verge of huge lawsuits that would make what we’re doing here look like a fairy tale” if the county doesn’t build a women’s jail. The current jail has 18 beds, while an average of 34 females slept there in 2007. To accommodate all the women, officers have placed temporary beds and mattresses on the floor.

“In my own life, I don’t like to pay rent; I like to own buildings,” Dawson said, adding that she carries that principle to government.

Income from state and local sales taxes dropped about $1.5 million from fiscal year 2009 to this fiscal year 2010.

The state still has not balanced its budget, and Nelson predicted that the county would face further cuts. Already, the county must compensate for a $395,000 cut to judicial services’ $8 million budget and a $272,000 chop to law enforcement’s $13.6 million budget.

Nelson said that the ongoing hiring and wage freeze coupled with departments cutting costs should allow the county to muddle through.

However, other counties have engaged in drastic measures like closing jails. Such moves could become necessary if the state cuts enough, he said.

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