The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted on Monday, Aug. 19, to approve the county tax levy for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. This move comes after two meetings of debate among the supervisors over whether to cut certain areas of the budget to prevent a tax increase.
The total property tax rate for the county is just under $5.56 per $100 of assessed value. That includes a rate of just under $4 per $100 of assessed valuation, with the remainder going to debt service, the library district and the flood control district.
District 1 Supervisor Ally Miller had proposed various cuts from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry’s proposed budget, but the three Democrats on the board balked at her suggestions, which included delaying flood control projects in her district and elsewhere as well as a hiring freeze on vacant positions.
District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson and District 2 Supervisor Ramón Valadez indicated concerns over how Miller’s plans would affect the county’s ability to funnel tax revenue into their new pay-as-you-go capital funding system which is designed to pay for major projects without borrowing through voter-approved bonds. The Democrats did reduce spending in all departments by 1 percent.
Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy joined Miller in voting against the tax levy. He said the other supervisors’ decision to approve the budget in July was a missed opportunity to reduce property taxes in the county.
“There was adequate time to have one more meeting before it became mandated that we made a decision,” Christy said at the Aug. 19 meeting. “I really feel that the third meeting would have been essential and that we probably or possibly could have come closer to establishing a property tax neutral situation.”
Miller said that as of Aug. 6, the county has already saved $8.3 million from vacant positions within the county’s general fund employee pool. She added that Bronson’s motion to enact a 1 percent cut across all departments freed up about $3.6 million in savings.
“We clearly could have done that tax neutral budget,” Miller told her fellow supervisors at the meeting, referencing the $10.5 million needed.
Valadez said enacting a freeze on hiring would not have been a smart move because the county’s vacancies in the beginning and end of the fiscal year are not always the same positions. So, if they did a blanket freeze over one or more departments it might have hindered the county’s ability to fill vital positions.
Elías called the property tax neutral budget idea “smoke and mirrors” because the county is saving that money either way.
“I’d be very willing to talk about all the savings that we’re going to realize from these open positions over the course of the year, and put that money toward pavement preservation,” Elías said to Miller. “Whenever you’re ready to do that, I think that’s a great idea.”