The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors proposed yet another property tax increase, from $3.88 to $3.98 for every $100 of assessed value. Add that to local fire, school and flood district tax rates and watch the balloon inflate.
Santa Cruz County property taxes have increased seven of the last eight years, Pima has decreased taxes four years in a row, and Cochise has remained relatively flat for six years and is the lowest primary rate at $2.67.
Increasing our population and economic base to better share the tax burden is desirable. However, the continuous increase of property taxes discourages people and businesses from moving into the county.
The county government is effectively taxing some low and fixed-income residents (including veterans) right out of their homes. It’s time for the County Board of Supervisors to get out of the downward spiral and generate additional funds elsewhere.
One solid solution is to identify and build on existing assets that offer the best opportunities for growth, and then develop strategies to support them. This should be a major planning goal for the board and manager. The east side of the county, nestled between two scenic highways, is a natural asset to support the state’s number one industry – tourism.
The natural beauty, outdoor recreation, historic downtowns, arts and cultural institutions, annual rodeos and fairs, boutique wineries, vineyards and distilleries attract tourists from within and outside Santa Cruz County. Additional lodging, shopping and eating establishments would be a significant improvement. According to the Arizona Wine Tourism Industry survey by Northern Arizona University in 2017, approximately 200,000 (and growing) visitors travel to the northeast Santa Cruz County area to sample wines and enjoy the area. Wine tourism should be encouraged by the county, which should further consider repurposing the Sonoita courthouse as a visitor’s center to help guide guests to local wineries, restaurants, lodging, points of interest and events.
Unfortunately, the supervisors and county leaders have historically ignored and been far more obstructive than supportive of the east side. Under their supervision, our primary destination roads eroded, and only in the last few months have they begun long-needed repairs by repaving only one mile of Elgin Road and patching others.
They have not invested in our parks nor a bike path that was planned. Also, county staff have created contentious relationships with local businesses.
It’s time for change. The county must engage with Patagonia, Sonoita and Elgin residents, business owners and developers to create incentives to make it easier for interested business and developers to invest in projects that support long-term priorities. Develop and invest in the potential of Eastern Santa Cruz County.
Let’s not embrace the same tired approach to the problems we face. Let’s choose to not raise property taxes, but instead elect creative, forward-thinking, skilled managers and leaders. Make your voice heard at the polls.
The County Board of Supervisors’ open meeting to discuss and decide on the proposed tax increase will be held on Aug. 7 at 10:30 a.m. at the Santa Cruz County Complex in Nogales. This is your opportunity to let your opinion be heard.
(Green is chair of the Sonoita-Elgin Community Group.)