"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." – Benjamin Franklin
Property taxes are rising, and the populace is helpless to fight against it – save to vote out of office those in Phoenix who approved of the increase, that is.
Property taxes in school districts will go up due to a perfect storm of declining property values, an increase of what the state expects localities to cover and a decrease in the amount of money districts receive for equipment and textbooks. The increased cost of running school districts is being put on the shoulders of local property owners because the State Legislature changed the way schools figure how much will be paid for by the state and how much by the local residents.
The Legislature did this in two ways – by increasing the Qualifying Tax Rate and reducing the amount it provides for equalization to cover costs of equipment and instructional aides, according to Pima Superintendent Sean Rickert.
In Pima, where the district relies heavily on the state to pay for its programs due to lesser property value, the change will have a greater impact on property owners' rates.
"The bottom line is that taxes are going to go up for residents of Pima," Rickert said. "The increase is not the result of anything that the schools have done or could have prevented. We are concerned about how this will affect people in our community."
The tax increase will cause an individual property valued at about $103,000, which is close to the median value in Pima, to increase by $10.82 per month.
The budget for the Pima School District is actually smaller than last year's due to fewer students, but the tax will still increase.
"This is a tax increase that we are experiencing because of the decisions being made in Phoenix, not in Pima," Business Manager Richie Gann said.
In Safford, the school's property tax rate will increase back to the level it was in fiscal year 2009/10. The district has been following a mandate of the Legislature and the Property Tax Oversight Commission to expend its excess cash reserves to lower the tax rates. Now that the district will have to cover the expenses not serviced by the state general tax fund, it has to raise the property tax.
The rate will still be lower in Safford than it was in fiscal year 2010/11 when the reduction in cash reserves began, according to Safford School District Director of Support Operations Tim McHugh. He added that it is projected that future tax rate calculations should level out and that the tax rate calculations are affected by several factors, not just by a district's operational needs.
Safford Superinten-dent Dr. Mark Tregaskes said people tend to not remember when tax rates go down, as the school property tax rate has in Safford over the past few years. That's why the raise seems so high, when in actuality it is the same amount as it was a few years ago.
"If you look into the past history of what the tax has been for a number of years, the tax rate that will be there is not really too different than what it was two or three years ago," Tregaskes said.
In the end, the percentage of how much district taxpayers have to pay to operate the schools was greatly increased this year by the Legislature, which, after attempting to balance its budget on the backs of the counties, is now apparently doing the same thing with school districts and property owners within them.
Tregaskes offered a ray of hope for Safford, however, and said next year shouldn't have such a drastic change.
"As long as nothing really unusual changes with assessed valuations or with what the Legislature does, we would expect ours to be the same or possibly lower," he said.