BY LINDA BENTLEY | APRIL 18, 2012
Fairness and community or divisiveness and redistribution?
Proponents argue ‘fair share’ without considering unfair subsidies
CAVE CREEK – If ever there were an issue with which the majority of Creekers agreed in the past it would be their desire to never impose a property tax. They made an exception for the purchase of Spur Cross Ranch 12 years ago and, after refinancing the debt several years ago, it is now paid off, six years early at that.
That was then.
This is now, where the upcoming special election to ask citizens if they wish to impose a property tax to fund fire protection services through a $1.3 million contract between the town and, most likely, Rural/Metro, a privately held corporation, has become so divisive it has ended some friendships and caused stress in some marriages.
When council voted 4-3 to place the question on the ballot, citizens were told the tax rate would be approximately $0.67 per $100 of assessed limited property valuation.
Now that the ballot pamphlets are in the mail, Creekers may want to note the estimated maximum rate is shown as $1.03 per $100 of assessed valuation, with owner-occupied residential property assessed at 10 percent, vacant land assessed at 16 percent and commercial property assessed at 20 percent.
Last week, a few people wanted to know who Rob Papineau II, chair of the Citizens for Sustainable Fire Protection in Support of Question 1 Political Action Committee (Vote Yes PAC), is.
Well, every time Papineau has spoken before council, he’s given his address as 35414 N. 56th St.
However, as it turns out, he doesn’t own the property. In fact, he doesn’t appear to own any property anywhere in Maricopa County.
So, the chair of the committee cheering on this property tax doesn’t own any property but, since he lives in Cave Creek, he can vote to increase taxes for those who do.
His ballot argument in favor of a property tax states he’s a former firefighter and says, “A yes vote is an educated response for sustainable fire protection.”
Carole Perry (r), also a proponent of the property tax, looks at it from the aspect that the Spur Cross tax will be retired so taxpayers will be paying approximately the same thing, once this tax is imposed, while eliminating their Rural/Metro subscription bill.
Perry states, “The net result to subscribers is a reduction of their overall expenses (their current subscription fee).
“The net result for non-subscribers is no increase in their current expenses and fully covered fire protection.”
Paul Eelkema says, “The fire protection issue is about fairness and community.”
He wrote, “With everyone paying their fair share most will notice a reduction in fire protection costs.”
He states, “Cave Creek folks are smart. A smart vote understands fair share contribution for sustainable service.”
The reason he says “most will notice a reduction” in costs is because not everyone will be paying their fair share.
Many property owners will be paying far more than their fair share, such as those who own vacant land, which is assessed at 60 percent more than owner-occupied residential property.
Since more than 85 percent of the calls to Rural/Metro are for emergency medical service, vacant land owners will pay a 60 percent premium for service they will never use.
Lori Pearce wrote, “The community at large is responsible for the culture, lifestyle and resources that make our community a great place to live.”
She praised the community’s coming together to preserve Spur Cross and said, “It is time again to come together. This time for equitable and sustainable fire protection and emergency medical services for all members of our community.”
Because Rural/Metro is a privately held company, no one knows if $1.3 million is equitable or sustainable for Rural/Metro to provide fire protection service to the town.
Some of the proponents, including Kenneth Gaskins, treasurer of the Vote Yes PAC, claim only 45 percent of property owners are paying for service.
However, according to Rural/Metro, as recently as Friday, the subscription rate is more like 55 percent, which is about the same percent Rural/Metro has experienced using the subscription model for more than 65 years.
But even if the 45 percent figure were correct, opponent Dorothy Tucker found it interesting anyone would want to impose a property tax for something 55 percent of the citizens don’t want.
She said, “[D]o not confuse a property tax for fire coverage with that of wanting to preserve a wilderness area in Spur Cross. Sure over 70 percent of the town’s citizens voted to tax themselves, but they did so to preserve a unique lifestyle and the character of the town … It is disingenuous to institute a ‘fire tax’ and disguise it as a continuation of the Spur Cross tax.”
Her opposition statement concludes with, “Asking a small community like Cave Creek, that is experiencing hard times like many towns in Arizona, to support a national company owned by a private equity firm with $35 billion assets under management is irresponsible.”
Councilman Steve LaMar (l) claims, “The property tax is fundamentally fair and absolutely necessary to the secure future of this or any town.”
LaMar believes the property tax is needed to insure future coverage and reduce the payment to all citizens who are now paying more than their fair share, forcing everyone to share in the cost.
However, in order to reduce the cost for some, it’s at the expense of raising the costs substantially for others, such as approximately 37 percent of the property owners in Cave Creek who own vacant land.
Former Councilman Adam Trenk, treasurer of the No Tax PAC, said, “There is no data evidencing that this tax is sufficient to provide for the town’s coverage needs. During these turbulent economic times, our leaders should not be asking us to shoot from the hip by voting to tax ourselves without knowing where or how the money will be spent.”
Terry Zerkle calls the ballot measure “little more than a hasty, ill-conceived attempt to augment town general revenues through a mandated property tax thinly disguised as universal fire protection. It’s a solution chasing a problem that does not exist.”
While the fire protection service issue has come up in Cave Creek on numerous occasions, Rural/Metro has repeatedly stated, “We’re not going anywhere.”
Former Councilman Ralph Mozilo was concerned with, among other things, the use of the proposed tax revenue in the future. He points out this is not a bond issue as was the Spur Cross bond, whereas the property tax had to be used to pay the bond and no other use.
Mozilo wrote in his opposition statement, “Did you know that the half cent sales tax supposedly passed to pay the operating costs for Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area has been mostly moved to the general fund? These monies were supposed to be used to operate Spur Cross and establish an operating and capital reserve so a visitor’s center and restrooms could be built in the park.”
Former Councilman Gilbert Lopez wrote, “The narrow margin of approval by council and lack of any visible citizens’ urgency as well as minimal encouragement from Rural/Metro begs the question: Who or what is driving this issue?”
He warned, “Just remember that taxes once imposed seldom go away and they invariably grow with time …”
Citizens are invited to attend an informational meeting hosted by the No Tax PAC at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24 at the Buffalo Chip where they will be able to get answers to whatever questions they may have about the ballot question.
Also, the pre-election campaign finance reports are due May 3, which may also answer some questions about the driving forces behind the property tax.
Witnesses said they saw an attractive, dark-haired woman under 50 driving a dark colored Mercedes Benz on Spur Cross Road removing No Tax PAC “Vote No” signs and putting them in her car. According to the No Tax PAC, they’ve not instructed anyone to remove any signs.