At the ballot box, Yavapai County voters overwhelmingly agreed to continue to be taxed at a quarter-cent on the dollar for county jail operations. This is a tax that has been in place for 20 years, and will continue now for another two decades before voters can weigh in on it again.
At City Hall, council members were split, but the majority prevailed to raise Cottonwood’s current sales tax levy from 3 to 3.5 percent. To simplify, you now will pay an extra 50-cents for every $100 of purchases made in Cottonwood.
Even with the bump in the city’s sales tax levy, Cottonwood remains in the middle of the pack when compared to the sales tax rates of other municipalities in the region. At 3.5 percent, Cottonwood’s levy still will be less than Camp Verde’s and equal to the rates in Jerome and Sedona, but higher than those in Clarkdale, Prescott and Prescott Valley.
But, unlike Clarkdale, Camp Verde and Sedona, Cottonwood does not have the added layers of property tax for fire-fighting and emergency aid services. And, it bears emphasis, while the city officially has a population of less than 15,000 people because of a long-standing anti-annexation sentiment, Cottonwood is a service provider for a community of about 40,000 people. To eliminate or dilute any of those services makes an extra 50-cents per $100 quite the bargain.
The flip side of the argument is that Cottonwood’s leadership needs to operate the city more like a business. That argument has been in place for just about as long as government has existed.
It apparently is easier said than done, because if government can be counted on for anything, it is to grow the government. When times are lean and money is tight, a business owner has no choice but to make the necessary cuts to address the reality of the bottom line. More often than not, government at any level will lean toward finding ways to generate more revenue through taxation or user fees before cutting services or personnel.
There are exceptions, of course. Locally, the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District showed old-school business savvy by closing one of its schools and consolidating its campuses because of declining enrollment and a stressed fiscal environment.
For Cottonwood, let’s hope the decision to increase the sales tax levy does not create a kid-in-the-candy-store mentality at City Hall. As the City Council moves forward through this year’s budget process, there needs to be a keen awareness of need vs. want when deciding spending priorities and a real commitment to eliminate municipal debt.