As reported in the news media, the Pima County Board of Supervisors is poised to pass a budget for upcoming Fiscal Year 2020 that will increase property taxes on the majority of Pima County residents.
As property valuations rise, the property tax rates must be cut in order to attain a tax neutral budget. The budget presented by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry for approval on June 18, 2019 did not cut the rates enough to avoid increasing property taxes on Pima County residents which requires a Truth in Taxation Hearing to notify residents of the tax increase.
On June 4, 2019, at the Board of Supervisor meeting, I presented a proposal to my colleagues to find further cuts in the budget expenditures to avoid another property tax increase on the cash strapped residents of Pima County. The video is attached below in this newsletter if you wish to view the discussion.
As residents of the fifth poorest metropolitan area in the country, Pima County residents know all too well the stress experienced when forced to pay additional fees, taxes and utility rate increases for basic necessities. Unfortunately, many Pima County residents have little choice but to use their credit cards to keep their kids fed, cars running, and roofs over their heads.
To avoid this increase in property tax approximately $10.5 million in reductions must be incorporated in the budget to facilitate a tax neutral budget. This reduction is based on the pay-as-you-go policies as presented by the County Administrator which I support. While there will still be costs for debt via issuance of COPS (Certificates of Participation) to enable 5 years of general fund contributions for road repairs, it is my recommendation that the Board of Supervisors should eventually phase out the use of COPS due to the high interest costs associated with debt.
I presented a list of potential areas to find these cuts and believe it was well received by board members. I presented this as a starting point for discussion and look forward to working with my colleagues to avoid further tax increases on Pima County residents.
Among my recommendations was to eliminate or move some capital projects to the future, review the required amount of general fund reserve, elimination of the library district tax rate increase, review of $35 million for budget expense objects that have been consistently underrun for the past 3 years yet a budget increase was requested. Finally, I proposed elimination of 15 of the 1,050 vacant positions that are budgeted in the proposed budget. As you can see from the proposal, we need to come up with slightly more than a 20% reduction of the total amount presented for review.
The amount of the expenditures we must cut is less than a 1% reduction in the County budget and I believe it is achievable if we sharpen our pencils and go to work on behalf of the taxpayers.
In light of our current financial situation; debt being paid down and HURF (Highway User Revenue Fund) and VLT (Vehicle Licensing Tax) monies increasing, there will never be a better time to implement a pay-as-you-go policy. I believe this can be accomplished without passing another property tax increase.
I am grateful that my fellow supervisors received my suggestions with open minds and recognized that this is an important conversation to have. I am open to all other suggestions that other supervisors may have to accomplish a tax neutral budget. Pima County Assessor Bill Staples called on the board earlier his year to avoid raising taxes on Pima County residents during our budget hearings.
As a matter of fact, the Assessor's budget was cut significantly due to years of underrunning on expense objects, so I believe it is important that all departments are held to the same standard. It was exciting to hear someone echo what I have been saying for years. It is also exciting to realize that there is a growing awareness that Pima County residents are demanding change.
The Truth in Taxation Hearing and budget approval will be on June 18th at 9:00 a.m. in the Board of Supervisor hearing room on the 1st floor of 130 W. Congress. Please attend if you are able.