The La Paz County Supervisors met July 26 with representatives from the Arizona Tax Research Association to discuss the county’s financial state and the fiscal year 2011-12 budget. ATRA Vice President Jennifer Stielow and tax analyst Ben Nowicki had questions regarding some aspects of the budget.
County Administrator Dan Field spent a portion of the meeting explaining the bonding and sales tax proposal to pay off the court judgment to the Yakima Company. He described how the county had pushed for the passage of SB 1178, the new state law that allows counties and municipalities to issue bonds to pay court judgments.
The judgment comes from a civil trial is 2007 where Yakima was awarded $9.2 million in damages from the county. With interest and fees, that amount has reached $14 million.
Field said the county is planning to authorize a long-term debt of $19 million, but added the actual debt would be closer to $16 to $17 million. The bonds will be paid through a half-cent sales tax. While the projection is that tax will be in place for 20 years, Field said it would likely last 16 years.
Any extra revenues from the tax in any year that are above the projected amount for that year will be used to pay off the bonds, Field said.
In matters also related to Yakima, Field said the county had seen collection efforts by the judgment creditors. He said the county had tried to negotiate the judgment amount down, but said the creditors wouldn’t budge.
As for the county’s economic condition, Field said they’d had layoffs recently. He added they’re almost caught up on the audits that had not been performed for several years.
Stielow was critical of the county for not performing annual audits, although she said La Paz was not the only county to fall behind on these.
District 2 Supervisor John Drum said he hoped their problems had been fixed.
Stielow also said there was no difference between property assessments from fiscal year 2009-10 and FY 2010-11. She said the assessor’s office and the Department of Revenue needed to find out what the problem was.
County Assessor George Nault later told the Pioneer the DOR had performed valuations on “centrally assessed” properties, such as those of utilities, but they turned these over to the county assessors starting in FY 2010-11. He said his office used the figures the DOR gave them. He noted he has fewer people on staff now than he did a few years ago, and he praised them for their hard work.
Stielow noted the county had recently laid off 13 employees. She asked what else they had done on cutting costs. Field said they’d had a hiring freeze since March 2009 except for essential services. They also use more temporary employees. He said employees had not had a salary increase in years.
When asked how converting to a four-day week worked out, Field said the county had saved $62,000 in electricity in a period of five months. He said the Public Works Department had saved a lot of money on fuel and wear on their vehicles.
“The employees seem to like it,” Drum said. “If you have a happy worker, he’s a good one.”
Drum had some questions of his own for the ATRA representatives. He asked why so many transportation taxes, fees and fines go to the state, rather than to local law enforcement agencies.
“Given what locals get, it’s almost not worth it for them to cite trucks and the like,” he said.
District 1 Supervisor Sandy Pierce said the economic picture for the county was not entirely bad. She said several companies were interested in La Paz County, and she hoped they would locate here. Such development could mean the county could pay off the bonds early.
ATRA bills itself as a source of information regarding the state’s often complex tax and government finance structure. On their website, www.arizonatax.org, they state, “ATRA's goal is efficient statewide government and the effective use of tax dollars through sound fiscal policies.” The group was founded in 1940.