Continuing with the Roundup’s Payson Town Council election coverage, we asked the six candidates to talk about their position on the Town of Payson’s sales tax rate of 9.48% (5.6% is state sales tax; 1% is county sales tax; and 2.88% is Payson’s sales tax).
The only thing the council can control is Payson’s sales tax, and the state limits how much it can be raised. We asked the candidates to weigh in on whether the town’s tax should change. If raised, how would they use the added revenue? If lowered, what would they be willing to sacrifice.
I am for lowering taxes as we are close to the highest rate in the state. By reducing the sales tax percentage business sales would rise, especially on large items such as autos.
No services would ever need to be cut if the rate was lowered. By lowering our sales tax we actually could generate more revenue with increased sales thus attracting more businesses. Also, with being fiscally responsible with the budget, your tax monies will go farther.
No tax should ever be raised without the vote of the people. Only the people can vote to raise sales tax in the form of a revenue bond to be put to a specific use for a term to sunset. First, I would advocate applying for grants and private donations before any increase of tax would be put to the voters.
If elected to council, I want to fully represent you. In doing that I promise to communicate with all people of this town to find out your most important needs and wants. I want you to vote on what you want — an example: grocery tax repeal or amenities to the town.
My initial, reflexive answer is we should neither raise nor lower the town sales tax at this time. My next thought is, any decisions on budgeting revenue and expenses need to be based on solid data provided by staff. Finally, I am curious where Payson’s sales tax rate compares to similar towns in Arizona. Anyone trying to compare Payson to another community in Arizona quickly realizes that there are few, if any close comparisons. In my review, the closest town comparing population and distance from a large city is Douglas, with a local sales tax of 3.80% (9.9% total). However, a key demographic difference is Douglas’ median resident age is 31 compared to Payson’s 58. Looking at all towns and cities in Arizona, Payson’s 2.88% (9.48 total) is definitely well within the bell curve, even with a .12% increase, as recently proposed.
The recent town council decision to not go forward with an increase was correct even though they chose not to let the people decide. Doing our best to “hold the line” on spending in the uncertainty of this pandemic seems appropriate, as well as not putting any unforeseen sales tax burden on our most vulnerable populations.
In my review of the budget, I do not identify services that can or should be sacrificed. However, with solid data analysis, I am confident we can find more efficient ways of spending in each department. If a sales tax increase makes the most sense for helping us weather this storm and meet our current budget requirements, I think residents can be convinced, through a transparent disclosure of the process, that each of them would come to the same conclusion if they were on the council.
I want to be clear about my approach to problem solving on the council ... all options, including raising the sales tax, are on the table for me when deciding how to most efficiently serve our community through the corporation known as the Town of Payson. In raising the sales tax, I think we all would have no problem with getting a little more revenue from those that just pass through our town on weekends, but we need to consider the total impact of such a raise, and explore all options when considering revenue and expenses.
I would absolutely not vote for an increase. It is imperative that we look at freezing spending, giving raises and looking at reducing salaries of leadership positions before we ask the good people of Payson for more money. Government must learn how to deal with their root issues of unchecked tax raises, salary increases, spending money when it is not prudent to do so.
Cutting the sales tax now, could have devastating results as we enter into the season of catastrophic loss of small businesses, jobs, homes and therefore tax income. This will be a very challenging time in our history and we must make difficult cuts and adjustments to avoid potential shut downs or job loss within our own town government. If there is a vote to raise the taxes, the money should be used to keep our first responders on payroll and meeting the basic needs of our community. If at all possible, when the budget has been adjusted toward fiscal health, it would be a wonderful time to discuss lowering the Payson sales tax.
There’s no doubt that taxes are a necessary evil as they help fund basic town functions such as police and fire services, economic development, parks, health benefit services, libraries, road maintenance and other programs and projects that benefit our community. They are also used to recruit and retain our highly skilled and experienced town workforce.
I firmly believe that the voters should decide an adjustment to the tax base. A proposal to increase taxes should be for a finite amount of time that supports a critical need or project. Once the project is paid in full, the tax increase should expire unless voters decide to apply it to another critical need. A good example is the .12% tax increase that was used to build a new fire station. However, in this case the town council voted to not put the increase back on the ballot depriving the voters the opportunity to speak.
If the town receives additional revenue, I would like to address public safety needs for the police and fire department. Payson residents respect, value, trust and love our first responders. We understand the danger and risk they take every single day to ensure Payson is the best place to live, work, retire, raise a family and even vacation. It is our responsibility as town leaders to ensure they are equipped and manned properly to accomplish their mission safely.
Any adjustment, either up or down, to our tax base would require an increase or decrease in services and projects. Any decision I make would be based on discussions with residents, assessment of capital needs, examination of current projects to ensure they support the town’s vision and community development goals and evaluate the recommendations of the professionals we have managing the town’s operations.
The bottom line is decisions regarding tax adjustments require voter input, collaboration and budget examination.
I continue my commitment to lower the town’s tax rate. I voted no to raise the sales tax to .88% in 2017. My incumbent opponent, Barbara Underwood, voted yes on that item. In recognition of the financial challenges our residents are facing today, we need to sunset the grocery tax on food staples next year. In these times, government must live within its means.
Private enterprise looks at how to provide the product or service at less cost prior to increasing the price for consumers or lowering the quality of the product. Town government must follow this basic rule.
Previous town councils overestimated growth in Payson and created additional positions on that flawed projection. With the actual data now in, we need to reduce the number of approved positions. We can reduce tax rates without sacrificing the quality of services the town provides and I will lead that effort. The town and residents need to work together to find different ways to fund our town instead of always raising taxes. We have too many residents on fixed incomes trying to survive.
Alternatively, we will show that the town can increase its efficiency and effectiveness without the need for a higher tax rate. In addition, we will increase input from our residents on how the town can provide necessary services more efficiently.
Nobody likes to pay taxes, but we have priorities that have to be taken care of in order to run a town and serve our community. Payson sales tax is currently 2.88%, which brought in approximately $11 million in 2019/2020, which is half of our total general budget and that $11 million goes toward our first responders. I did support, and would support allowing the voters to vote on a .12% increase to be used for police and fire vehicles and equipment only. Unfortunately, on a 4-3 vote, the council denied giving citizens a voice on if and how their taxes should be spent.
I would have to look hard to prioritize services to be cut. Cutting a percent across the board with all departments would probably be the fairest way if we had to make cuts. I am not in favor of lowering taxes at this time, but if necessary, I could sacrifice any non-essential wants like the splash pad.
If the sales tax was raised, this would allow the town to have a revenue stream that would be used for specific needs. Using it for our first responders for vehicles and equipment would be great. This would allow for other taxes to cover the rest of the departments like streets, parks and recreation, and community development. Possibly covering our event center for year-round use and replacing our antiquated pool with an indoor pool that all ages would benefit from having.
I would have to believe that an increase would be the right thing to do for the betterment of our community. Then I would feel confident in communicating with the public on why we would need to have this increase. Look at some things that the 0.88% tax has accomplished:
Paid down the $1 million loan from the water department and as of June 2021 we will only owe $50,000 on that debt.
Not only are we paying down our public safety retirement fund, but we have also been able to put an extra $600,000 a year toward the approximately $20 million owed.
According to our financial policy we now have put about $5 million in reserves and contingency funds going into 2020/2021.