The Tax Ogre and the Cost of Growth – David Stringer, Publisher

Photo: Deep Well Ranch development

Ambitious politicians promoting a development agenda for Prescott like to say “if you’re not growing, you’re dying”.  It’s a catchy phrase but phony as a three dollar bill. What’s the point of growth if you’re not improving the quality of life for the community?  The recent release of a Truth In Taxation statement by the City of Prescott reminds us that growth entails unintended costs. Tax happy officials at City Hall have struck again.

Pro-Growth City Council members told us development would create a bigger tax base and raise revenue.  And we fell for it. Now we learn that all those shiny new homes in north  Prescott are actually driving up the cost of city government. We’re going to need more government and higher taxes. Where are the council members we voted in who claimed to be fiscal conservatives when they ran for office?  Apparently, growth doesn’t pay for itself. They got us again.

Cities always have higher tax rates than rural communities. The bigger the city, the higher the taxes. In Prescott, higher water usage, traffic congestion, and strains on existing infrastructure are only the most visible costs. New rooftops bring more residents who drive up the demand for city services. That means more police, more firemen and more workers on the city payroll. Growing the city means growing the government.

Image courtesy of DepositPhotos

Higher property taxes means more cash out the door for cash strapped homeowners, many of them retirees on fixed incomes already battered by inflation and high medical costs. The tax ogre is alive and well at City Hall.

The ostensible rationale for the 14.86% increase in the property tax levy is the need for more police and firemen. And raises for city workers. Fair enough. Inflation has driven up the cost of living for everyone. Prescott can afford to pay its employees fair wages. But haven’t higher assessments on homeowners increased the amount of taxes collected? Why do we need an increase in the rate of taxation?

The City points to a lower budget from the expiration of the Prop 443 tax. But isn’t this a sleight of hand? The Prop 443 tax was sold as a temporary measure to pay off the City’s unfunded liability to PSPRS. It wasn’t used to pay the operating costs of city government. The tax expired because the debt was paid. It had nothing to do with property taxes. Nor did it have anything to do with fixing the systemic flaws in PSPRS.

Does Prescott really need more police and fireman? Have residential fires gone up? Have response times for emergency service become unreasonable? Don’t we have a private ambulance service to supplement the Prescott Fire Department?

Prescott eNews recently commissioned a survey to identify the issues of top concern to Yavapai County voters. We make no claim to scientific precision. We included Prescott voters but the survey was county wide.  Our pollster texted 16,000 registered voters and asked them to name the issue that concerned them the most.  The response rate was just under 3%–about average for this type of  survey.

Thirty percent of respondents said immigration was their top concern. Not illegal immigration. Immigration. Period. Water and  Development came in at 22% and 20% respectively. Education, Gun Rights, Critical  Race Theory and the LGBTQ  agenda all made the list.  Two percent named crime.

Apparently, registered voters in Yavapai County think their communities are safe. They are not overly concerned with crime. Is that a tribute to the County Sheriff’s Office and local police departments?  Absolutely. But it also has a lot to do with the demographics of our county with its large retiree population and low crime rate. This is especially true for Prescott, which in recent years has become a relatively affluent area with a lot of upscale neighborhoods. In any event, there doesn’t seem to be too much of an outcry for more police. Except from the police themselves and elected officials  who constantly tell us we need more of them at higher pay.

According to the City’s Truth in Taxation Statement, the increase will be modest. They claim it will only increase the average homeowner’s property tax by around $15 a year. Why, you’ll hardly notice it, right? But if it’s such a small increase, why have it at all?  Can’t all those fiscal conservatives we elected to the City Council find any place to cut back? Have the fresh carpets and new swivel chairs at City Hall blinded them to the fact that there are taxpayers out here footing the bill?

The Truth in Taxation law requires the City to notify taxpayers of impending tax increases and hold public hearings. We get to be heard. But don’t think for one minute that we can stop it. Unlike sales tax increases that have to go to the voters,  property tax increases are the prerogative of the City Council. But we do have an election coming up.  Maybe we could, ummm—make some  changes?


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