Whatever that education tax is, it went up 88 percent

By Linda Bentley | October 7, 2009

Questions abound, answers sparse
CCUSD – If you live in the Cave Creek Unified School District, the Saddle Mountain Unified School District in Tonopah or the Arlington Elementary School District in Arlington, you have an additional tax on your property tax bill, which, as of this writing, defies explanation.

In the CCUSD it appears on one’s property tax bill under the section for Schools/Education as “EXEMPT EQ TAX CAVECREEK” and is calculated at a rate of .1719 per $100 of Primary Limited Valuation (PLV). Additionally, on many taxpayers’ bills, it has increased by approximately 88 percent over last year.

In our quest to determine what the tax is for and who receives it, Sonoran News began with the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office, which provided us with the phone number for the CCUSD, which said the tax wasn’t levied by the school district.

We then contacted the Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office, who attempted to refer us back to the assessor’s office or the school district, but since that had already yielded no results, the treasurer’s office referred us to the county finance office instead.

There, a woman named Cynthia explained the tax was a statutory formula provided by A.R.S. § 15-992.

With statute number in hand, it appeared answers were nigh.

A.R.S. § 15-992(B) states: “At the same time of levying taxes as provided in subsection A of this section, the county board of supervisors shall annually levy an additional tax in each school district that is not eligible for equalization assistance as provided in section 15-971 in an amount determined as follows:
“1. Determine the levy that would be produced by fifty per cent of the applicable qualifying tax rate, prescribed in section 15-971, subsection B, per one hundred dollars assessed valuation.
“2. Subtract the amount determined in section 15-971, subsection A from the levy determined in paragraph 1 of this subsection. This difference is the additional amount levied or collected as voluntary contributions pursuant to title 48, chapter 1, article 8, except that if the difference is zero or is a negative number, there shall be no levy.”

In other words, if a school district isn’t eligible to receive equalization funding, an additional tax is levied upon those property owners in addition to the Education Equalization Tax, which can be found in the same section of your tax bill.

The moratorium on the Education Equalization Tax expired and the legislature did not renew the moratorium or eliminate the tax. That alone is responsible for large increases in property tax bills, despite the fact valuations were mostly down from 2008.

As directed, we looked up A.R.S. § 15-971(B), which refers to subsection A and states: “Equalization assistance for education is computed by determining the total of the following:
“1. The lesser of a school district's revenue control limit or district support level as determined in section 15-947 or 15-951.
“2. The capital outlay revenue limit of a school district as determined in section 15-951 or 15-961.
“3. The soft capital allocation of a school district as determined in section 15-951 or 15-962.”
Subsection B(2) states: “From the total of the amounts determined in subsection A of this section subtract the amount that would be produced by levying the applicable qualifying tax rate determined pursuant to section 41-1276 for a unified school district, a common school district not within a high school district or a common school district within a high school district which offers instruction in high school subjects as provided in section 15-447.”

It continues referring to a dizzying number of statutes, which must be looked up to determine how someone, yet to be identified, formulated the tax rate of $0.1719 per $100 of valuation for this EXEMPT EQ TAX CAVECREEK.

The starting point of 15-992 directed us to 15-971, which then referred to the following statutes: 15-947, 15-951, 15-961, 15-962, 41-1276, 15-447, 15-943, 42-6205, 15-994, 15-973, 15-255, 15-904, 15-766, 15-767, 42-5029 and 35-173.

Although 15-992(A) states: “The amount of the school district taxes levied upon the property in a particular school district shall be paid into the fund of such school district,” subsection C of the same section indicates the taxes levied under subsection B “shall be transmitted to the state treasurer for deposit in the state general fund to aid in school financial assistance.”

Sonoran News spoke to Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools Director of Finance Terry Quest on Friday. Quest indicated we were not the first call he’d received regarding the tax and said he would attempt to find out what it is.

No answers had been received by press time.