The Pima County Board of Supervisors has approved a $1.1 billion budget that includes a 17 percent hike of the primary property tax rate for county residents.
The measure passed 3-2 , with District 1 Supervisor Ally Miller and District 4 Supervisor Ray Carroll voting no.
The increase, equivalent to nearly 62-cents per $100 assessed value, was met with popular resistance by homeowners – many of them seniors – saying it could force them from their residence.
Retired Oro Valley resident Geri Ottoboni said she was “shocked and disgusted” by the proposed increase, noting in particular the effect that a hike would have on the elderly.
“What do you have against seniors?” she asked during the June 17 meeting. “I am on a fixed income, and have no way to increase my income, especially since no one will hire someone at my age,” she said, adding that since the county cannot live within its financial means, she would like to see the county line redrawn.
Business organizations like the Tucson Association of Realtors (TAR) and Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said higher property taxes could serve as a deterrent not only for future residents, but act against a prosperous business environment.
“This affects affordable housing, job creation, job expansion, and attracting new businesses as well,” said Steve Huffman, TAR director of governmental affairs.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in order to maintain the core services that county residents desire – such as public safety – the increase is necessary in order to compensate departments, such as the Sheriff’s department, that continue to overspend on their budget. The property tax hike would also help cover an across-the-board 50-cent raise for county employees, which was approved in the final budget adoption.
However, the board’s decision to increase funding for various departments like the court system, transportation, and public safety came with a caveat. The $24 million estimated to cover additional department expenses was placed into a contingency fund until the departments can prove they have a legitimate need for their allotted money.
While the board hoped the action would hold departments more accountable, many residents are saying it is the board itself that has not been accountable, particularly when it came to a decision to redirect $1.75 million in road repair money to be used as a down payment to build new soccer stadiums at Kino Sports Complex.
The $1.75 million was taken from a $5 million general fund allotment that the board initially voted to use toward road repairs.
District 2 Supervisor Ramon Valadez defended using $1.75 million toward new fields.
“Soccer fields are an investment,” he said, citing a Phoenix tournament that drew in $115 million. “Why are we doing this? This isn’t just an investment for economics, this is an investment in our kids. Would you rather have them playing soccer of doing God knows what? It’s an easy argument to understand.”
Supervisor Ally Miller said the “build it and they will come” mentality is merely a “hope and a dream” that has failed in the past.
“This is no different than when we said baseball was going to happen at Kino Stadium,” Miller said. “And now we’re putting these soccer fields in the same area where the baseball fields failed.”
For more information on the final budget, visit http://webcms.pima.gov/government/.