Establishment of a Legislative Study Committee was presented in the State House of Representatives to evaluate and report on fiscal and related impacts should a change in the county boundary line between Cochise and Santa Cruz counties be made. HB 2486 passed a roll-call vote in the House and is now in the Rules and Government Committees of the Senate.
The measure was introduced by State Representative Gail Griffin in response to Sonoita-Elgin community concerns following several town hall discussions pinpointing issues impacting the community, including increasing taxes and declining services.
According to David Green, Chair of the Sonoita-Elgin Community Group, if the bill passes, the report produced by the Study Committee should provide the community with important information and guidance with respect to the feasibility and benefits of joining Cochise County.
Green stated that because the community is sparsely populated, the east side of the county does not have power of the vote. This became apparent when concerned residences convened, at a standing-room-only Board of Supervisors meetings to speak out against the proposed abolition of the Justice of the Peace Court, Precinct 2 in Sonoita, but nonetheless the Board, including Sonoita’s own County Supervisor, Bruce Bracker, voted for closure. “The cost to the community far outweighed the proposed savings to the County, which even now appear to be dwindling,” said Green. According to Green, closure of the court and the relocation of the county’s Public Works Department road equipment from Sonoita to the west side of the county, has further reinforced community concerns that, in spite of increasing taxes, services are declining, and key roads that support the local economy remain in a dangerous state of disrepair.
Green notes that the changing of the county line will likely impact taxes, particularly for special districts, such as the Fire and School Districts which Green said will require further analysis. Research by the Sonoita-Elgin Community Group reveals that, while property taxes have increased in Santa Cruz County for the last seven years, Cochise County has reduced taxes the last three years. “Although taxes are a major concern in this area, we also must consider services received, solvency of the counties, and their overall quality of management,” said Green.
In addition to increasing taxes and decreasing service, there are additional concerns with the Santa Cruz County unemployment rates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the long-term unemployment average for Santa Cruz County is 13.63% in contrast to Cochise County at 7.16%. “We are concerned about the continued debt for the county detention center that opened in 2011 which failed to generate the projected income, now shifting the burden to the taxpayers,” said Green.
Green is impressed with Cochise County’s Strategic Plan which identifies seven countywide priorities for committing time and funding. “I am not aware that Santa Cruz has a similar document to identify county priorities, but if so, it is not transparent to the residents,” said Green.
“We also have similar shared geographic and economic interests in ranching, agriculture, wine and spirits industries and tourism, all of which are comparable with those of Cochise County. In contrast, the west side of Santa Cruz County focuses primarily on produce imports,” Green pointed out. “While Cochise County has consistently supported the wine industry, our county officials in Santa Cruz are confrontational, at best.”
The Sonoita-Elgin Community Group is optimistic that passage of H.B. 2486 will provide greater insight into some of the potential challenges and benefits the community may experience as it continues its rapid growth moving forward. “The information provided by this study will be essential to understanding the best way our community can support its economic base and receive value for the taxes it pays.”
Green welcomes and encourages community feedback. If you would like to express your opinion on the issues, you may contact the Sonoita-Elgin Community Group by email: email@example.com.