After some discussion and hearing what members of the public wished to say, the Yavapai College District Governing Board approved a 2-percent hike of its primary property tax levy on the district’s taxpayers Tuesday morning, May 8, by a 3 to 2 vote.
The approved tax increase will cause the primary property taxes on a $100,000 home to increase from $172.39 to $175.84, or $3.45. This amounts to an additional $896,100 for the college annually.
Eleven members of the community addressed the board during call to the public before a vote was taken. Each one expressed some degree of disapproval over the proposed 2 percent increase.
“I feel that college is an option for people to take to make more money in their lives,” local resident Garland Williams said to the board. “Well, my life is retirement now, and I’m on a fixed income, and I can’t afford all of these increases.”
Kirk Storms spoke as well. He recently moved into the area from California for his retirement. One of the primary reasons he did so was to escape high taxes, he said.
“We moved to Arizona because of the low taxes and we’d like to keep them low,” Storms said to the board.
And if taxes are to be raised, he’d prefer that it be in a way that affects everyone, not just those who own property.
“I encourage you to find more equitable ways to raise funds,” Storms continued. “Property taxes only put the burden on those who own real property.”
Ruth Marie Wicks – a regular attendee of the board’s meetings – also spoke out, saying she believes the additional funds from the 2 percent increase are only to fuel what she perceives as a “building frenzy.”
“This frenzy to build buildings,” Wicks said, referring to a number of current and proposed capital projects the college has addressed recently. “I encourage the board to look at the mission statement and say that the reason this college exists is for education.”
Board member Deb McCasland agreed with these assessments and stood fast in her position that the tax levy increase is gratuitous.
“I cannot tell these voters and our donors that we need this money, in any clear conscious,” McCasland said.
Clint Ewell, vice president of finance and administrative services for the college, attempted to address McCasland’s concerns first by making clear how the money from the 2 percent increase will be used.
“This money has been set aside to support approving academic quality issues, some of our student success initiatives and to help some of our preventative maintenance type of projects,” Ewell said. “It’s not for any of the capital improvement plan projects that board member McCasland had mentioned”
He then spoke to the matter of how the college is doing financially and where it’s saving’s account is currently.
“According to the experts who manage accreditation for colleges across the country (in this case, the Higher Learning Commission), they would like to see us have more in our savings account,” Ewell said.
Board member Dr. Patricia McCarver asked Ewell to put this in terms of how much an average homeowner should have saved away for emergencies.
“How long could the college continue if there was some kind of catastrophic event with what we currently have,” McCarver said.
“I think we have between three and four months worth in the bank and the Higher Learning Commission would like to see at least six months in the bank,” Ewell said.
When discussions were adjourned, the board proceeded with the vote. Board Chair Ray Sigafoos, board member Steve Irwin and board member McCarver all voted to approve the increase. Board member’s Deb McCasland and Dr. Connie Harris voted against the increase. Immediately following the vote to approve the 2 percent increase, the board began a special board meeting to discuss the adoption of the district’s 2018-19 budget.
There was some discussion over various details of the budget, but in the end, the vote was 4 to 1 in favor of adoption. McCasland cast the single opposing vote.
The college’s total budget amount for 2019 (including savings) is $89,365,260. This was an increase of about 8 percent from the previous year. However, about $4.4 million of those dollars are from the recent sale agreement of the NAU-Yavapai campus to the Town of Prescott Valley, and those funds are being placed in the college’s savings account for a future one-time cost. Meaning, that $4.4 million is technically unavailable for regular operations costs, Ewell said.
“That makes it look like we have 8 percent more revenue, but, really, I think a more accurate picture is about 2.6 percent (more revenue),” he said.