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TAXES

Road tax increases set for November ballot in Flagstaff

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Bad Roads

Cracks in the street and numerous potholes make Lockett Road a rough drive. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Voters in the city of Flagstaff will face two separate road tax hikes on the November ballot that together will collect about $250 million in sales taxes in the city and county over 20 years.

On Tuesday, the Flagstaff City Council unanimously approved asking voters for a hike of one-third of a cent in the sales tax for 20 years.

The tax would raise $106 million, with about half of that amount spent in the first seven years on repairs to roads and underlying utilities.

Of the remainder, $30 million would be spent in years 6 through 20 on pavement preservation and sidewalks, with $13 million left over for unspecified projects.

And separately on Tuesday, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place a three-tenths of a cent sales tax increase on the ballot in November.

The county expects the tax to raise $7.2 million a year for 20 years — or $144 million — to help pay for shortfalls in its Public Works Department budget.

The bulk of the amount raised from the county tax would come from purchases of goods inside the city of Flagstaff, but all of the revenue would be spent outside the city on county roads.

TAX RATES OF DISTINCTION

The Council opted for the one-third-cent tax in part to distinguish its measure from the county’s proposal of three-tenths of a cent.

But City Manager Kevin Burke also noted that a third of a cent would raise more money, which could be used to reduce the amount in bonds the city would have to take out, thus costing less in interest.

Even with the additional county tax, the city road tax — amounting to 33 cents on $100 of purchases — would keep the total sales tax under 9 percent, Burke said.

With a few conditions on the ballot language, such as determining what to do with the additional $13 million, Council approved going with the one-third of a cent tax rate. Additional ballot language will be hashed out at the next council meeting.

SENSITIVE TO AUTO DEALERS

The Board of Supervisors settled on a three-tenths of a cent sales tax increase after months of presentations. They, like the council, wanted to keep the overall sales tax in the city of Flagstaff under 9 cents, which was something that large-purchase retailers — such as auto dealers — said they wanted.

Also, city voters will be casting ballots on the county road tax in addition to the city tax, and at least half the votes cast in the county election are likely to come from Flagstaff.

The county also paid for polling earlier this month that indicated strong support for as much as a three-eights of a cent sales tax increase, but marginal support for a half-cent sales tax increase.

The county says it has made drastic cuts in recent years to shield the community from the impacts of revenue lost to waning gas taxes, as well as stripped down state and federal funding. Now, the only way to stave off even more drastic cuts is to increase its revenue.

If approved by voters, the tax increase will help pay for the maintenance of 1,000 miles of dirt and paved roads, as well as snow plowing efforts and replacing old equipment.

Some of the funds will also be placed in reserve to help deal with emergency scenarios in the future.

Sun staff reporters Eric Betz and Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa contributed to this story.

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