Should a consolidation of the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts be approved by voters in November – barring a court order to cancel the election – Upper Verde property owners will see negligible change in their annual tax bills.
That’s according to the draft fiscal analysis compiled by the Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools Office.
A draft of that analysis shows moderate gains in the 2020 fiscal year tax bills for property owners in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union districts. It also shows moderate declines in the tax bills for property owners in the Clarkdale-Jerome School District.
Those numbers, advised County School Superintendent Tim Carter, are a mix of realistic expectations based on Arizona law combined with some assumptions he and his staff and advisors had to make.
“Our team really struggled with this because we had to make some assumptions, and you never like to do that. The actual governing boards will be the ones who will make these decisions should consolidation-unification take place,” said Carter.
He added that this fiscal analysis of the impact consolidation would have on property owners in all three Upper Verde school districts “was the most complex part of the process, although there were complexities throughout the entire process.”
The fiscal impact on property taxpayers, Carter explained, was directly based on what Arizona law requires. It examines four values. Three are residential values and one is a business/commercial value. Arizona law does not require such an analysis be made on industrial properties, said Carter.
For residential properties, Arizona law requires an analysis of the average assessed valuation of residential properties in the individual school districts, as well as the valuations for properties that are one-half the average value as well as those that are double the average value.
For Mingus Union property owners who live within the boundaries of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, the basic average property ($175,977 full cash value per the Yavapai County Assessor’s Office) would see an increase of about $23 in their school district tax bill in the 2020 fiscal year with the high and low ranges showing expected increases of $11 and $43. The average commercial property tax business owners in the district would pay comes out to an increase of $203, the fiscal analysis shows.
The study shows a range from a low of $13 more for property owners in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek District to a high of $49 in the 2020 fiscal year. The average commercial property tax would increase by about $76.
While fiscal year 2020 property tax bills show slight increases for Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union taxpayers, property owners in the Clarkdale-Jerome School District will see declines. Average-priced properties in the CJ District, those with a full-cash value of about $174,000, will see their tax bills drop by $179 a year beginning in 2020. The low and high ranges of the tax bill reductions for Clarkdale-Jerome property owners range from a low of $90 to a high of $360.
Property tax bills for commercial properties in Clarkdale-Jerome will fall, on average, by $244, the study shows.
While these projections do include the admitted “assumptions” referenced by Carter, the county superintendent did emphasize that this fiscal analysis involved hundreds of man-hours and was heavily scrutinized.
“We had lots of eyes on this,” said Carter. ”Our staff, attorneys, accountants, the state department. We really wanted to get this as accurate as it could be as we knew if there will be criticisms of the process, this is where it would be.”
The penchant for accuracy, said Carter, is not only for the benefit of the taxpayers of the three impacted Upper Verde school districts, but the entire Arizona education community.
“There are a lot of people watching this,” Carter said of the proposed Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union consolidation. “The state legislature, the House and Senate education chairs, the governor’s office – they are all watching this, as well as what I call all the education alphabet groups in Arizona. It’s being very closely watched. And that is good in many ways. Should this be successful in the Verde Valley, it could move the needle forward for school district unifications all over the state. If it is not successful, it will move that needle further away as people will say there is just too much involved to make it work.”
According to the Arizona Auditor General’s Office, there are 236 school districts in Arizona.