Apache Junction City Council to vote on proposed sales tax increase

Editor’s note: The Apache Junction City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 2, approved in a 5-2 vote increasing the sales tax by .2 percent.

The Apache Junction City Council is scheduled to vote Dec. 2 on whether to approve a .2 percent city sales tax increase to fund road improvements, including Apache Trail. The proposed increase would generate approximately $1 million per year for the repairs, according to a news release from the city.

The action is planned to take place during the council’s regular meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, 300 E. Superstition Blvd.

That night’s discussion could be as bumpy as the road the tax is earmarked to repair, with one council member saying she believes the council could be acting in “panic mode” while another is calling it the city’s “best short-term solution.”

“After looking at all the options to raise money to get the Trail fixed before it gets worse, it’s the only thing we can immediately see money coming in for. I think it’s our best short-term solution,” Councilwoman Gail Evans said during a phone interview. “It’s not our permanent solution but it will get us started.”

She added she would vote for the tax increase as long as it included a sunset date. The latter is a date selected by the council at which time the tax would end, Assistant City Manager Bryant Powell said in a phone interview. In this case, the council is looking at a sunset date 10 years from the date the tax begins, Mr. Powell said.

If approved on Dec. 2, the city sales tax increase would go into effect March 1, Mr. Powell said.

The tax now is 2.2 percent and would be 2.4 percent if approved by the council.

Councilwoman Christa Rizzi called the proposed tax a “quick fix.”

“This tax increase is being used as a panic mode, quick fix for something that should have been addressed years ago. Roads do not deteriorate overnight,” she said in a letter to the Apache Junction/Gold Canyon Independent (See page 6 of today’s paper.) “Assuming Highway User Revenue Funds would always be available with no plan to be self-sufficient is how we got into this mess. In all fairness, yes, the state has taken HURF funds that we (should not have) depended on. However the state has also made drastic cuts to education, yet schools are being told by voters to solve their own financial problems without a tax increase. A tax increase is a tax increase regardless of what it is funding. If we expect schools to live within their means through these cuts to funding then the same expectation is reasonable for municipalities.”

Since the city of Apache Junction does not have a property tax, the majority of its budget is funded through sales tax, according to the city’s website, www.ajcity.net. The current total sales tax rate is 8.9 percent, of which the city of Apache Junction receives 2.2 percent. The state receives 5.6 percent and Pinal County receives 1.1 percent, according to the website.

The proposed increase would generate an additional 20 cents per $100 spent, according to the release.

For every $100 spent in Apache Junction, the city receives $2.20, according to the release. A .2 percent city sales tax increase would result in Apache Junction receiving $2.40, according to the release.

If the council approves the increase, all the funds generated will go directly to pay for roadway improvements, according to the city’s website page dedicated to the issue. The site includes fact sheets and links to video presentations about local roadway conditions.

According to the site, this supplemental revenue source would be used to fix roads that city officials say are in dire need of improvement. The worst of these is Apache Trail between Meridian and Idaho roads, according to the site.

Historically, the funding for roads in Apache Junction came from HURF, according to the release. HURF comes from the gas tax that is collected by the state and proportionately distributed to municipalities along with the revenue allocated to the city as part of the half-cent Pinal County sales tax, according to the release.

HURF monies plummeted during the recession with no drastic recovery anticipated anytime soon, according to the release. Additionally, the state began taking money from HURF to balance their budgets, which left local municipalities struggling. Since 2007, HURF has decreased in Apache Junction from $7.3 million to $3.8 million, according to the release.

Other council members also disagree about whether to approve the tax increase.

Councilman Dave Waldron believes the proposed tax increase is necessary, he said during a phone interview. He said council members have discussed the matter at length with Apache Junction residents during numerous community meetings with residents and military veterans groups this year and the attendees feel the increase is needed.

“It’s clear people favor the tax for the road repairs,” he said. “My preference is for a 10-year sunset date and that the money is strictly for road improvements, with the greatest need on Apache Trail.”

Councilman Jeff Serdy opposes the proposed tax increase.

“I’m a strong ‘no’ vote on it,” Councilman Serdy said during a phone interview. “I’m hearing from more people who oppose it. It’s going to hurt our businesses.”

Mr. Serdy said shoppers will bundle their shopping outside Apache Junction.

“They’ll say, ‘While we’re getting our gas out here, let’s get our groceries out here,’” he said.

The councilman said some local business people and residents are upset about the possibility of a city sales tax increase.

“People are pissed at being taxed; people have a choice and they may choose to shop elsewhere, they don’t want to pay for it,” he said. “People I’ve spoken to don’t think the roads are that bad. People who have to sell something every week are against it.”

Members of the local business community also differed in their opinions of the proposed city sales tax.

Craig Farah, manager at Shoppers, 3003 W. Apache Trail, opposes a tax increase.

“Any time you raise a sales tax it impacts business, especially when we are so close to Mesa where people can choose to shop,” Mr. Farah said during a phone interview. “Just because the city didn’t create a slush fund or save money throughout the years because it was getting funding through the state that it is no longer getting, I don’t understand why that has become the city shoppers’ problem. I oppose the increase.”

Realtor Elise Otero favors the tax increase.

“We need to improve our road system a great deal,” Ms. Otero, who owns Otero Realty Group, 1000 W. Apache Trail No. 107, said during a phone interview. “I know how tight things are but I don’t think that tiny increase is going to hurt my business. I’m in total agreement with it.”

The Apache Junction City Council holds its regular meetings at 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of the month in the council chambers. For schedules and agendas, visit the city website.

News Editor Wendy Miller can be contacted at 480-982-7799, via e-mail at ajeditor@newszap.com, or on Twitter at WendyNewszap123.

Reach staff writer Wendy Miller at wmiller@newszap.com

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