Tax Bills Linger In Limbo

Treasurer asked to explain late property taxes

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A long delay in sending out property tax bills that has created a crisis for many special districts prompted Gila County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Pastor to “invite” Gila County Treasurer Debora Savage to appear before the board at its Nov. 5 meeting.

The supervisors want answers from Savage regarding the continuing problems with getting the 2013 tax bills out.

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Gila County Treasurer Debora Savage

Savage told the Roundup she has agreed to be at the meeting and hopes to be able to tell the supervisors the bills are either being printed or are in the mail at that time.

Pastor said he recently met with the fire chiefs of Gila County who said the lack of tax payments has forced already hard-pressed fire districts to get high-interest loans to stay in operation.

“That’s a real hardship for these districts that are operating on a shoestring,” Pastor said.

County officials, who asked not to be identified, said Savage has blamed the problems with the late bills on software and the technical contractor working with her office, reportedly saying the contractor did not view the problem with the same urgency as she does; and the assessor.

However, in an interview Thursday, Oct. 31, Savage told the Roundup the programmer (tech consultant) has been in her office all week, helping her staff check the system.

“We want to verify the system is working so we don’t send out inaccurate tax bills,” Savage said.

She said this is a problem that a few other counties have had and as result it has been necessary to redo and re-issue the bills.

According to Gila County District One Supervisor Tommie Martin, Savage has apparently also blamed the board of supervisors. Martin, at the conclusion of an Oct. 29 work session that touched on the issue, said an Arizona Republic reporter called her about the problem and said Savage had told the newspaper the supervisors hadn’t approved the new software in a timely manner.

However, in a press release from the treasurer’s office, Savage said, “In late fall 2012 the Gila County Treasurer’s Office was notified that our existing property tax program was becoming obsolete and would not have a maintenance agreement after December 31, 2012. Gila County does not have on staff a computer programmer who could write such a program, so a decision was made to submit to the public for bid a contract for a new tax system. 

“After thorough research for the best product and price, a choice was made and the contract was approved by the Board of Supervisors in the spring of 2013.  Since that time, the treasurer’s office has been working with this firm on the conversion process of moving all the data from the old system to the new one. The time consuming job of proofing approximately 50,000 secured and unsecured tax records data for the prior seven years is still ongoing ...”

Martin said Savage actually has had board approval since the beginning of 2013.

Citizens have expressed concerns about the late bills along with the county’s fire chiefs.

Jim Hippel of Payson, who holds a master’s degree in business administration and is a retired certified public accountant, wrote to the Roundup about his concerns, as did Mel Mevis.

Hippel wrote that state law requires agencies to maintain their bank accounts with the county treasurer and deposit property taxes, sales taxes and state funds into those accounts. These entities then submit expense vouchers to the treasurer who in turn writes the checks.

“Property tax bills prepared by Gila County Treasurer Debora Savage for these entities are historically distributed to property owners in early September with a November 1st final due date. To date, these property tax bills have not been prepared due to problems with implementing computer software for a new treasurer accounting system. This ... project ... has been ongoing for almost two years. When will it be completed?

“Meanwhile, the lack of revenue for all of these entities from property taxes will and is creating financial hardship. Most of the seven school districts in Gila County rely heavily on property taxes to deliver their services. Most entities have bank credit lines, but if they become exhausted they will have trouble making payroll and paying their bills. In addition, they will incur interest expense from the use of their credit lines. Will the Gila County treasurer pay for this expense due to the tardiness in the preparation of property tax bills?

“Whenever the property tax bills do hit the street, responsible property owners and mortgage holders should pay the bills upon receipt and not wait until a final due date. This way, (the) public entities affected will be able to maintain their services with minimal disruption and increased cost.”

Supervisor Martin said that homeowners would have a month to pay their property tax bills from the date they receive them. Hopefully, the delay won’t affect the due dates for the next quarter’s payments.

Savage told the Roundup she expects the bills to be in the hands of property owners by Friday, Nov. 15 or before. She said the first half of the taxes owed would not become delinquent until Dec. 16.

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