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It’s time to talk about
fairness in local taxation

A Commentary by Jim Eaton

Before 1988, when the City of Sedona was incorporated, we got some services from the counties. A little police protection, a little street maintenance, etc. And we got some services we didn’t like, e.g. poor planning and zoning. Not very good, to be sure, which is why we voted to become incorporated. But at least we were getting something in return for our county property taxes.

But since incorporation, the City sales tax pays for our own street maintenance, our own police protection, our own administration costs, and many other services. The counties, especially Yavapai, have saved many millions of dollars in service costs that they no longer provide in Sedona.

Yet the counties continue to collect the same property tax rates from Sedona that they collect in those areas where they do provide services. If the county officials wanted to be "fair," they would have helped the City with costs of rebuilding the streets that they left to us in such poor condition. But they didn’t. To make it worse, they now bill the city government (us) for health care, emergency management, and jail occupancy. And to make it even worse, they added county sales taxes, which they collect inside the city limits as well as elsewhere.

Let’s talk about "fair." Every resident and voter in the City of Sedona is also a resident and voter in Yavapai or Coconino County. Due to our growing property assessments, people inside the Sedona city limits pay more in property taxes than others in the counties. For many years, the people of Sedona have been a cash cow for the counties. If the counties want to be fair, they could help pay our police, street maintenance, etc. They could provide the same health and disaster services that they provide at no cost to unincorporated areas. But they don’t.

Here’s the deal. To be fair, the counties should collect their sales tax only in the unincorporated areas where they actually provide these services. This would help to level the playing field for Sedona businesses and customers. For example, one auto dealer now is looking to relocate outside the city limits, where he can offer his customers a savings in sales tax. A dealer formerly in Cottonwood has moved outside, where he loudly advertises "no city tax." The city people lose, the counties gain.

Incorporation has brought great benefits to Sedona. Our streets have been improved, and traffic circulation is more efficient despite increased population and tourism. The city looks better, we have better control of development and building, and we don’t have the large ugly signs that you see elsewhere. We have excellent police service, and it’s safer. In general it’s a better place to live and to visit. But we pay sales taxes twice and only receive once — it ain’t right!

This is an issue of fairness in taxation, and getting what we pay for. It’s time for residents of Sedona and other incorporated Verde Valley communities to speak out to county and state officials, and get (a) all county sales tax excluded from incorporated areas, or (b) get a fair share of revenue returned to fund the same level of services they provide to unincorporated areas. The counties can still collect their property taxes, which the Sedona City government doesn’t. It’s time to end double taxation.

This issue becomes even more important now that the Arizona state sales tax is taking another jump. Visiting shoppers pale when they’re told our sales tax will exceed nine percent. It makes one wonder why government must continually take a bigger percentage of our money — even in good economic times when they’re getting more revenue because they get a piece every time a dollar changes hands. How many percents are there in a dollar?

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