Probably most of us dread opening our tax bill from the county, and immediately drop down to the bottom line – what do I owe this year? Most of the time, it will be more than we owed last year, and the years before that. So why do our tax bills keep getting higher and higher?

A good start to answering that question is to look carefully at where your tax dollars go. There are several taxing districts. All county property owners pay Santa Cruz County (SSC) tax and SCC Flood Control District (FCD) tax. Two additional county-wide taxing districts are SCC Community College and the Joint Technical Education District, both of which provide higher education for students in the county. Property owners also pay into the Fire District Assistance Fund which is county-wide and then distributed from the county to existing fire districts.

There are several localized tax districts. Patagonia tax district 6 includes the Patagonia Union High School and Elementary School. Patagonia has a volunteer fire department, so residents in that district do not pay property tax for fire protection. Sonoita, Elgin and Canelo tax district 25 includes Sonoita School District 25, Patagonia Union High School 25, and the Sonoita Elgin Fire Department. The tax rates for all the localized districts are determined by the governing boards of the schools and fire department and approved by the county annually. 

We looked at two random properties to compare tax district payments. The first is a single-family residence, one story, 1134 square feet built in 2013 and sitting on 1.92 acres in Patagonia with a full cash value of $205,466. For this property, the total tax for 2021 is $2,368 as follows: 

Amt % of total tax

Schools $1,353 57%

SC County $751 32% 

Flood Control $141 6% 

CmtyCollege/JTED $104 4% 

Fire Assistance $19 1% 

The second property is a single-family residence, one story, 3307 square feet built in 2004 and located on 4.77 acres in Sonoita with a full cash value of $526,439. For this property, the total tax for 2021 is $7,114 as follows: 

Amt % total tax

Sonoita Elem/Pat HS $2,800 39%

SC County $2,133 30%

Flood Control $428 6%

SEFD/Fund $1,485 21%

Cmty College/JTED $268 4% 

Lots of people want to know, how can I reduce my taxes? Am I paying more than my fair share? Am I getting the services I am paying for? 

In these examples, 56% of the Patagonia tax and 60% of the Sonoita tax are tax rates that are determined by budgets approved by local governing boards, including fire districts and schools. In Arizona the burden for K-12 education shifts heavily to property owners. Citizen engagement with governing boards and open dialog is needed to understand what you are paying for and maybe share some strategies that could increase efficiencies and reduce tax rates. 

But there’s another key issue. Property assessments are critical in determining primary and secondary taxes. The property valuation of the Patagonia residence noted in this article rose 13.6% over the course of four years, and the property example in Sonoita rose 14.1% in four years. 

The County Assessor’s office is responsible for determining the Full Cash Value of your property by comparing your property to similar properties which have been sold in the same market area. Generally, a computer program is used to generate these calculations annually. The County mails out notices near the beginning of March. 

The March issue of the PRT will contain an article describing how to petition the county for a review of your property value. And don’t forget, the second half of your property taxes is due March 1st.