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BULLHEAD CITY — The agenda item referred to placing a “dedicated sales tax proposal” on the August ballot.
The discussion among most of the 15 speakers — and six members of the Bullhead City Council who voted in favor of letting voters decide the fate of a 1-cent increase in the city’s sales tax — was primarily on whether or not to support the tax increase itself.
It was a foregone conclusion that the proposal would wind up on the ballot — why else would the council even have the item on the agenda? — but it is anything but a foregone conclusion on which side the most voters will fall.
City Manager Toby Cotter, repeating a presentation he has made several times, said the need for street repair funding “is just a fact.” And, he contends, the temporary sales tax for seven years to raise $35 million is the best answer to “how will Bullhead City improve and maintain its street infrastructure?”
At Tuesday night’s council meeting, 15 residents spoke during a public hearing, giving a litany of pros and cons for the increase that would push the city sales tax from 2 to 3 percent while raising the overall rate that includes state and county sales taxes from 7.85 to 8.85 percent.
The prevailing sentiment from supporters echoed Cotter’s presentation: Street repairs are necessary and must be paid for somehow. The sales tax is, to many, the fairest way to generate revenue to pay for street repairs.
“I know it’s necessary,” said Ray Shanahan, the last of the 15 community members to take the speaker’s podium during the public hearing. “I hate taxes as much as anybody.”
“We need this,” John Hastings suggested moments earlier. “It’s the only fair way” for local residents.
Vice Mayor Kathy Bruck expanded on that theme a bit later, contending the sales tax increase was the lesser of possible evils after conceding that doing nothing was not an option.
“I don’t want to see a property tax,” she said. “I don’t want to see an improvement district.”
Those were among other options considered to raise money for street repairs before the council formulated a sales tax proposal, but both were rejected because it placed all the burden on residents and not on everyone using city streets. A sales tax, which would apply to purchases made within the city limits regardless of who is making them, would share the burden. City Finance Director Rudy Vera estimated that about 25 percent of Bullhead City sales tax receipts are from out-of-town visitors.
Other options, according to Cotter’s brief presentation, involved the reduction of existing city staff and/or services. He said cutting programs such as the senior nutrition program or the Bullhead Area Transit System wouldn’t put much of a dent in the millions of dollars needed for street repairs. Bullhead City residents currently pay no city property tax; Mohave County and other taxing entities such as school districts and fire districts, do impose property taxes on city residents. Improvement districts are taxing divisions that provide an assessment to residents of a particular neighborhood for improvements made in that neighborhood.
“Nobody likes those options,” Cotter said.
And nobody really “likes” a sales tax increase, either.
“The city is asking us to pass another sales tax,” said resident Candy Mason. “We can’t afford it.”
“This community is really hurting,” said Michael Lipschultz. “Have all the alternatives been explored?”
“I don’t like to see additional taxes,” said resident Jamie Stark. “There’s no more money left. I still think we need to look at this a little more.”
“We’ve looked at all the options,” Council member Sheila Shutts said later, responding to those questions.
Earlier, resident Don Dixon leveled criticism at the council and city staff in general and Public Works Director Pawan Angrawal in particular.
“I don’t think the money’s being spent right,” he said, citing what he called improper or incomplete repairs to several city streets.
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