Pinal budget plan lowers property tax rates

East Valley Tribune
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Jason Massad

The primary tax rate for Pinal County property owners would drop to the lowest level in 30 years under a tentative budget approved by county officials.

The tax paid this fiscal year to the county on a home valued at $100,000 was about $402. In the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, the tax on a house valued at $100,000 would be about $344.

That doesn't necessarily mean that all homeowners are going to see a decrease in the county portion of their tax bill. Even in a slumping housing market, assessed values on property continue to rise because they lag behind true market rates.

Still, county officials lauded the drop in the rate.

"We can still achieve this and still manage to deliver the services that people expect from their county government," said Heather Murphy, county spokeswoman.

But state tax experts say Pinal County had to reduce its tax rate in accordance with state law.

Pinal County's tax levy for fiscal 2007-08 was estimated at $76.7 million. To set the new tax rate, county officials are allowed to add 2 percent to that figure plus the value of new-home construction.

The rate of $3.44 per $100,000 in assessed value is the maximum the county can assess by law, said Jennifer Schuldt, vice president of the Arizona Tax Research Association.

"They can't go above that," she said. "They are required to drop it. Some of the counties try to take credit for it when they are required to do so."

Meanwhile, the Pinal County budget for the new fiscal year is slimmer than last, a reflection of decreasing state and local revenue.

For the upcoming fiscal year, the county has a tentative budget of $450.6 million. That's $24 million less than the year before.

The county's debt service will rise only slightly this year, as will a county enterprise fund.

The county's capital projects will take the biggest hit.

In the current fiscal year, the county spent $63 million on capital projects, such as the Ironwood-Gantzel parkway.

In the upcoming year, the county is scheduled to spend $25 million on all capital projects, a nearly 60 percent drop.

The county plans to delay a revamp of its downtown campus in Florence.

Some employees operate from modular facilities.

However, there is room in the budget for a much-needed library in the northern part of the county, Murphy said.

A library is scheduled to be built in about a year on Hunt Highway north of Arizona Farms Road.

County residents in the San Tan area now have to pay Queen Creek $40 for a library card, or travel to Apache Junction, Coolidge or Florence to check out books from a county facility. "With gas being what it is, that $40 would be a bargain," Murphy said.

Pinal County's budget figures could change, once the Legislature finishes crafting the state's spending plan.

The county is anticipating up to a $4 million shift, depending on the amount of state revenue it receives.