The value of all pieces of property, or parcels, and the buildings on them in Santa Cruz County has been creeping up year by year.
The combined valuation in the county has grown to $3.3 billion this year – that’s up from $2.8 billion in 2015 – according to County Assessor Felipe Fuentes.
That increase, in what’s called “full cash value,” means that even when the property tax rate remains the same, there will be more revenue for government bodies such as schools, law enforcement, emergency medical and county operations, he said.
But what looks like sunshine to some appears as rain to others.
Elgin resident Kat Crockett said that she and some other property owners in the eastern part of the county aren’t happy about the bigger tax bills that follow valuation increases.
“I think it depends on what side of the fence you’re on,” she said. “Obviously if you’re one of the taxing authorities gaining income from the raised assessments, you’re going to be pretty happy.”
And, she added, “some homeowners may feel if their assessed value increased” then the value of their home has risen.
But Crockett, along with a group of area residents, has formed the Sonoita Elgin Community Group to study and advocate for lower taxes.
“This came with the closing of the (Justice of the Peace Precinct 2) courthouse. You’re taxing us higher than anybody because of the assessed values markedly increasing in this area and you’re taking away our services, especially on our tourist winery roads.”
Fuentes said that increased valuations are the sign of a healthy economy.
“We’ve seen the economy slowly climbing up, but it’s going up,” he said, noting that different areas of the county will have different assessed valuation.
“Rio Rico is the heart of the county right now,” he said. “It’s the area that has more opportunity for developers to do construction because the infrastructure for the lots is already there. They don’t have to develop new land.”
“In Nogales, the higher sales are in Vista del Cielo and Meadow Hills. Also, sales prices are high in the Sonoita area where most of the properties have large acreage,” Fuentes said.
The county, which oversees more than 45,800 parcels of land and has three certified field appraisers, uses a formula and computer software to determine full cash value. The formula incorporates property and building sale prices.
For tax purposes, the county uses a figure called limited property value, which is related to full cash value.
In Santa Cruz County, the net assessed limited property value rose from $317 million in 2015 to $344 million in 2019, about eight percent.
Santa Cruz County Manager Jennifer St. John said this fiscal year, which started July 1, the county will levy taxes on that assessed valuation of $344 million.
On top of the valuation increase, taxes are going up this year.
The primary property tax rate is expected to increase to $3.98 per $100 of assessed valuation, compared to last year’s $3.88.
St. John said the county has to contend with rising costs in several areas.
“Since 2007, the state has passed on unfunded mandates or swept Santa Cruz County funds to the tune of $9.2 million,” she stated, adding that higher insurance premiums and an increase in the state minimum hourly wage from $8.05 in 2016 to $12 in 2020 were also taking a toll on the county’s finances.
Crockett said she would feel better about paying higher taxes if the county turned its attention to issues like creating a strategic tourism and economic development plan.
“We’re kind of a single entity county with our major focus in government (being) the produce industry and imports and exports from Mexico. We’ve been begging the county for years to fix our infrastructure and change (the) bad attitude towards the wineries and distilleries,” she said.
“Get in line with a second industry,” Crockett added, “which happens to be Arizona’s No. 1 industry, and that’s tourism. That’s a natural asset for the county. Being a small county, we think that’s their best chance of diversifying and having more than one economic priority.”
Anyone who wants to view the parcel on which their home or business is located can get to it quite quickly. New technology installed in the past two years helps county employees and the public is able to easily access it.
Detailed maps of every piece of property are online and contain the owners’ names, address, lot size, the full cash value and the limited property value, plus more information.
The maps can be viewed at gis.santacruzcountyaz.gov/asr/index.html by clicking “parcel map.”