Deputy County Manager John Nelson said he felt anger along with many other residents after opening his property tax bill this year.
Although county supervisors followed Nelson’s recommendation and raised the total amount of property taxes collected by 2 percent, some homeowners’ bills increased by 10 percent.
Homeowners are subsidizing declining values of the mines, said Nelson at a recent Citizens Awareness Committee meeting at the Payson Public Library.
Meanwhile, the state’s budget meltdown continues with no end in sight. Nelson and Supervisor Tommie Martin sounded off about the mistakes state leaders made during flush times, cutting taxes and increasing government services.
Despite the rise in the price of copper as the economy has faltered, the value of Gila County’s producing mines fell by 41 percent to $43.4 million from last year to this year.
Mines, said Nelson, self-report information to the state Department of Revenue, which then assigns them a value. However, the Department of Revenue has lost many of the personnel responsible for checking the validity of self-reported figures due to budget cuts, said Nelson.
“I will let you make up your own mind on that,” he said.
Gila County homeowners will subsidize the drop-off this year, and the situation could worsen.
“I see the state going further into the hole,” predicted Nelson. “Homeowners, be prepared.”
Meanwhile, state leaders unwisely lowered taxes and increased government services during Arizona’s real estate gold rush, said Nelson.
In Gila County, Nelson said he saved money for a downturn during flush times. So far, the county county has weathered the recession with cost-saving measures like a hiring and wage freezes while avoiding layoffs or service cuts.
“When there’s an up, there’s a down,” said Nelson.
People need government services during downturns, he added, so governments better have money to help when people need it most.
This year, Gila County will bear an additional $1.6 million in reduced revenue and increased expenses handed off from the state.
Nelson said state legislators complain about the amount of money they share with counties. Yet, the county must provide the state’s mandated services.
Nelson decried the terminology “state-shared revenue,” which legislators take to consider as an act of generosity.
“You’re not sharing anything with us,” he said about lawmakers. “If you’re going to give us less, tell us which mandate you’re going to take.”
While the state has cut services and affected counties, lawmakers haven’t asked county officials’ opinions on how to proceed.
Martin said that lawmakers govern too much by sound bite. For example, people recoiled at cuts to education.
“It’s too easy to say, ‘on the backs of kids,’” said Martin. But are educators effectively spending the money they have?
Martin referenced beautiful buildings the Payson Unified School District built with a voter-approved bond, wondering if spending the money was necessary. “I got a better education in the Rock Building than these kids are getting in these fancy buildings,” said Martin.
“We need some thinkers, some deliberators,” in the legislature, she added. Perhaps voters should increase the salary to attract better candidates. “We need to get away from single-issue candidates,” Martin said.
“Quit electing cowards,” yelled out Payson councilor Ed Blair.
“I think their heads are in the wrong place,” said Martin. Voters are partially to blame, too, she said.
Since 2000, voters have approved 22 measures that increased the cost of running government.
“It’s time we all get our heads out of the wrong places,” said Martin.