Trio of ballot issues awaits <br>Cottonwood voters this spring

Three propositions will be on this year’s March 13 primary in Cottonwood.

In addition to the propositions, any candidate receiving a majority of all the votes cast at the primary will be declared elected without running in the May general election. There are three council seats open.

On the ballot:

• A citizen initiative prohibiting the levying of any sales tax on food items purchased within the Cottonwood city limits.

• Home Rule Option — A request for voter approval authorizing the City to expend approximately $21.3 million in 2001-02; $23.5 million in 2002-03; $22.8 million in 2003-04; and $24.3 million in 2004-05.

Upon approval of this option, the city will utilize the expenditure authority for all local budgetary purposes including the operations and maintenance of the city’s sewer system, the operations and maintenance of the new city library, the five-year street improvement program, public safety, cultural and recreation activities, general government, debt service and other fiduciary activities.

• The question giving the City of Cottonwood authorization to engage in the water utility business, and be authorized to construct, purchase, acquire or lease any plant or property or portion thereof devoted to the business or services rendered by a public utility either within or without the corporate limits of the City.

Cottonwood Mayor Ruben Jauregui said that around 30 to 40 municipalities in the state impose a sales tax on food items.

According to the Arizona Department of Revenue, Cottonwood and Clarkdale currently impose a sales tax on food items.

"We have to consider that the city lives and operates on sales tax," Jauregui said. "Sixty percent of the sales tax is paid by people outside the city limits … that burden to operate the town is spread out."

The mayor believes the home rule option, or the state-imposed expenditure limitation, will benefit Cottonwood.

"That’s good for us. We can set our own limits." He said this item has always received voter approval.

The mayor also approves the water utility plan.

Cottonwood City Manager Brian Mickelsen added more insight.

"For the city to ever be in the water business, we’d have to have permission from the voters," he said. "Right now, we’re not actually proposing to be in that business."

Mickelsen added that the city has authorization for this project in the future. He added that the city remains in the evaluation process, looking at the private water companies in the area – with the possibility of making these a public utility in the future.

As far as the sales tax on food items, "The council will be looking at that in January.

"Certainly, it’s going to be a large impact on the budget," Mickelsen said. If the initiative passes, "there’s only two choices. Number one, [we] cut back services and the other, look for another way to increase revenues. We need to walk through this with city council and explore our options."

John Bond initiated the ballot proposal doing away with a sales tax on food.

"To me, it’s self explanatory," Bond said regarding his support of the initiative.

"I have always felt that sales tax on food is unfair. It’s a regressive tax and it burdens the working poor, the poor, and the elderly on fixed incomes unfairly. I don’t think that’s a just way to tax people," Bond said.

"It disturbs me that this was never put to a vote of the people. It was imposed in 1985 by a vote by the council and never placed in front of the voters," he said.

Bond explained that Verde Valley senior citizens must constantly weigh their decisions about purchasing food or medicine due, in part, because of the food tax. This initiative would ease the burden for those people, he said.

"The voters ought to have a chance to make this decision. You cannot fund good programs with a bad tax."

According to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, since October 1999 the only city that chose to repeal its sales tax on food was Mesa.

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