Pima County budget plan includes "small" tax hike for roads

2013-12-27T00:00:00Z Pima County budget plan includes "small" tax hike for roadsBy Joe Ferguson Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says he has no choice but to ask for a small property tax increase to help fund road repairs.

A memo from Huckelberry to the Pima County Board of Supervisors outlines a growing backlog of road projects while resources are quickly drying up.

“It is not an overstatement to say we are nearing a time when we will have minuscule resources available to accommodate growth needs unless we can develop a solution to help us meet demand,” Huckelberry wrote on Dec. 23.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the proposed 7-cent primary property tax increase will add about $8 to the average tax bill for homeowners who have an assessed home value of $116,000 for tax purposes.

While still early in the early in the budgeting process, the overall county budget next year is expected to be relatively similar to the current one of $1.27 billion.

Revenues are expected to be flat when compared with last year’s, with no significant increases in sales tax or in property valuations.

Once called a “band-aid” by Huckelberry, the tax increase could generate as much as $5 million a year for road repairs.

County Supervisor Sharon Bronson said she is open to considering a small property-tax increase dedicated to road maintenance, noting there are few other alternatives.

Waiting for revenues specifically set aside for road maintenance to increase, she said, is no longer an option because streets continue to crumble in her mostly rural district.

She said it will cost taxpayers more if the county chooses to wait while pursuing other sources of revenue, including getting voters to pass a bond package or an additional tax on gas, which needs approval from the Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer.

Supervisor Ally Miller agreed with Bronson that the county has to act to fix its streets, but she disagreed that there is a need to raise taxes.

The District 1 supervisor, still in her first year in office, called the $5 million figure too little to make a dent in the backlog of road maintenance projects. She also said county taxpayers are not in a good position to handle an additional tax.

“It’s not just the county that is doing them; it’s everybody,” Miller said about the effort to raise tax revenue.

Miller said she hopes to hold another public budget hearing in the spring and that her staff is compiling a list of possible budget cuts to be considered by the board. Miller said she hopes Huckelberry’s proposal fails.

The supervisors rejected a similar recommendation from Huckelberry less than a year ago.

Supervisor Ray Carroll said he couldn’t comment on the $5 million proposal from Huckelberry, noting that he hasn’t seen the rest of the nearly $1.3 billion county budget for next year.

However, Carroll said it was unlikely he would support the budget proposal recommended by Huckelberry.

Appointed to the board in 1997 and elected into office in 1998, Carroll has never voted in favor of an adopted county budget.

Huckelberry cited a need to pursue new revenue sources while the county is simultaneously lobbying the Legislature to back a 10-cent-per-gallon gas-tax increase.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@azstarnet.com or 573-4346.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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