Mohave County supervisors engaged in extensive deliberation of spending needs and how to fund them, possibly through tax increases, at their regular board meeting on Monday, June 5. The discussion meandered and uncertainty prevails as supervisors get deeper into the budgeting process.
While a majority of the board has expressed support for extending the life of a capital project quarter-cent sales tax, supervisor Buster Johnson again made clear his opposition. While other supervisors embrace extending the life of the tax to fund building projects such as the courthouse, morgue and animal control facilities, Johnson said he can’t break the promise he made in 2000.
That’s when Johnson and another Board of Supervisors implemented the quarter-cent sales tax that’s been used to build the administration facility, the sheriff’s office and the jail. But Johnson said he won’t waffle on his pledge that the tax would sunset in 2020.
Extending the tax would require a unanimous board vote and is therefore dead.
Supervisors also discussed the possibility of placing a half-cent transportation sales tax on the November election ballot. Voter approval of that question would provide an estimated $13-million in year-one that would be strictly dedicated to road maintenance and construction-related efforts.
The proposal would allocate about a third of the revenue to be divvied up among the county’s four municipalities. Bullhead City manager Toby Cotter said his council supports the concept.
“I see this transportation tax as a win for everybody in the county,” said supervisor Jean Bishop.
The board postponed a vote on the special sales tax election, directing staff to further engage the municipalities to earn their support to increase chance of passage at the ballot box. Supervisor Hildy Angius expressed concern about possible rejection of the question when it could cost about $250,000 to conduct a county-wide election otherwise not contemplated in November.
Angius said she believes county officials are getting side-tracked in support of funding for transportation. She said her number one priority increasing funding for the Mohave County Sheriff’s office and its personnel.
“It pains me to even talk about raising taxes. In my time here I’ve never supported a tax increase but I want to live in a county that is safe,” Angius said. “I am not one to fall for government hyperbole ‘the sky is falling’ scenarios or threats, but we are in trouble here.”
That’s when sheriff Doug Schuster weighed in.
“We are in dire straits. I’ve been pulling my hair out. I’ve been losing sleep because I’m trying to fix a problem that occurred long before I took the position and it’s getting epidemic,” the sheriff said. “I have men and women working for me with ten-plus years of service who are telling me point blank ‘I’m loyal. I want to stay, but if we can’t get this fixed this year we’re leaving.’”
In addition to wanting to advance capital projects and increase funding for sheriff’s office, probation department and other county personnel, supervisors are stressed over required payment of a $20-million public safety pension debt, plus interest.
“We are between a rock and a hard place and we did not create that rock and hard place,” said supervisor Steve Moss.
The board is struggling to reach consensus on the best way to pay off that debt, and how quickly to do so in order to save interest.
Supervisor Bishop said she specifically favors use of sales tax over property tax for new revenue generation.
“I hear all the time that republicans, conservatives, don’t raise taxes ever, ever, ever and that simply is not what I believe a conservative is,” she said. “I believe a conservative is someone who is responsible with the revenues that they bring in, in this case to the county, and spends the money wisely.”
In addition to directing staff to bring back the transportation sales tax election proposal, supervisors ultimately directed staff to prepare multiple proposed budgets with varying sales and property tax components and options.
The Board also directed preparation of a spending plan without any new revenue generation, though county administrator Mike Hendrix warned such an approach is not practicable given that it would involve service crippling cuts to administration and staff.