The weird saga of whether Gila Community College will ask voters for an extra $1.2 million in taxes continued Thursday when members agreed to continue looking into it.
This latest move follows an announcement by board chairman Bob Ashford in November that he was postponing the election, which the board had approved a month earlier.
Originally, members agreed to ask voters in March. Now, Ashford aims for a November election.
The decision hinges on two key elements. First, the college is researching if the secondary tax levy requires a specific purpose besides increasing revenue.
Second, putting the measure on the ballot requires a two-thirds board majority, or as Ashford quipped, “three and a little bit.”
On Thursday, however, members Larry Stephenson and Tom Loeffler said they opposed going forward without better information.
Stephenson, who originally voted against the election, voted for researching more on Thursday. Loeffler voted against the measure, leaving the final tally at 4-1.
However, votes so frequently fall down the 3-2 geographic divide, with Loeffler and Stephenson in Payson against members in Globe, that Ashford announced Thursday’s vote as 3-2.
Stephenson didn’t bother to correct him. “Ultimately, I’m going to vote against it unless we have compelling evidence otherwise,” he said after the meeting.
Loeffler had gathered a list of eight reasons he thought the vote should be postponed, many of them reflecting the school’s mysterious financial status.
Confusion also surrounds whether the college can approve a secondary tax levy without a specific purpose.
Loeffler said county and state officials have told him that secondary levies are solely for financing capital projects.
However, the state statute listed on the college’s agenda appears to allow community colleges to levy the taxes simply to raise more money.
GCC’s proposed tax would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $25 annually for seven years.
“All I’m asking is for the opportunity to ask Gila County voters to decide for themselves,” said Ashford.
GCC has the second lowest tax rate in the state at 53 cents per $100,000.
Ashford said the added income would allow the college to end the one-day each week furloughs and bring back scholarships for high school students and senior citizens.
Stephenson held fast. “If this does pass, it will just be more money we can’t account for properly,” he said.
This year’s budget fiasco featured months of open-ended speculation about the exact size of the college’s deficit. After enacting several cost-saving measures, board members still lack a clear picture of the financial standing.
Ashford blamed the deficit on the state, saying the college had budgeted to spend state aid that lawmakers later cut. However, initial shortfall estimates for the college reached $2 million, while GCC is only set to receive $658,000 from the state this year.
Ashford did say that he supported hiring someone to monitor the budget once the college’s finances improve.