County looks to raise property taxes to pay down pension debt, begin jail improvements
With its public-safety pension debt pushing $50 million, Yavapai County is mulling a property tax increase to help pay down the unfunded liability.
Although a final decision is still to come, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors broached the possibility this week of raising its property-tax levy by $9 million to $10 million for the coming fiscal year.
That would add about $36 per year to the property-tax bill for a $100,000 home, or about $120 for a $300,000 home, county officials said.
The increased revenue would go toward a variety of uses, but a major portion – as much as $4.5 million – would go toward paying down the county’s unfunded liability with the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS).
According to information in Yavapai County Administrator Phil Bourdon’s presentation to the Board of Supervisors Wednesday, June 5, the county’s unfunded PSPRS obligation for the coming year stands at $49.5 million.
That includes about $36.6 million from the Sheriff’s Office, $11.4 million from Yavapai Corrections, $1.1 million from County Attorney investigators, and $433,687 from Yavapai dispatchers.
Last year, the county put an additional $4.5 million toward its pension debt, on top of its $5.6 million of annual required contribution to the PSPRS.
Bourdon said the additional payment helped to reduce the county’s unfunded liability, which in turn, dropped its annual required contribution to about $5.3 million this year.
Although a decision is still weeks away, supervisors expressed some sentiment in favor of putting an additional payment toward the PSPRS debt again this year.
“To not do it doesn’t make sense,” said Supervisor Craig Brown.
Supervisor Tom Thurman maintained that “the retirement system is broken,” and pointed out that voters in the City of Prescott had approved a sales tax increase in 2017 to pay down Prescott’s PSPRS debt, which currently stands at about $69 million.
Prescott City Councilman Phil Goode, who told the supervisors he was speaking on behalf of the Citizens Tax Committee (CTC), said the county’s pension debt would be difficult to pay off by making only the annual required contributions each year.
“The only solution is to bring in additional funds,” Goode said, noting that the CTC estimates that the county’s PSPRS debt would grow by about $2 million a year without any additional payment.
Along with the additional money to go toward PSPRS, the county is contemplating two major jail-related capital improvement projects.
County Facilities Director Ken Van Keuren said the projects involve the county’s Gurley Street administration building, which currently houses temporary holding cells, as well as a new criminal justice center (jail) in Prescott.
The county’s tentative capital improvement plan includes: starting work on a new criminal justice center near the current juvenile justice center on Prescott Lakes Parkway; a renovation of the county’s Gurley Street administration building, converting the cell area to office space; and a new 97-space parking deck over the current parking lot behind the Gurley Street building.
Under the proposal, the county would put $3.6 million toward the criminal justice center in the coming 2019/2020 fiscal year, as well as $2.7 million toward the Gurley Street remodel and parking structure. Additional allocations would continue in the 2020/2021 fiscal year.
Van Keuren said design for the Gurley Street parking deck is partially done, and the county could be ready to start construction soon if the funding is approved.
The additional parking would be available for county employees and the public, he said.
Bourdon said a proposed increase in property tax would require the county to conduct a Truth in Taxation hearing.
Before the Board of Supervisors considers tentative approval of its 2019/2020 fiscal-year budget on July 3, Bourdon said county staff would compile the needed information.