Finance Director Mauricio Chavez presents the 2022-2023 Santa Cruz County budget to the Board of Supervisors. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

The SCC Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the 2022-2023 budget at the special meeting to set the fiscal year 2023 primary and secondary tax rates; adopt the budget; and adopt tax rates for county-wide fire and school districts. 

Finance Director Mauricio Chavez outlined the impact of unfunded state mandates in the budget. Unfunded state mandates are expenses that the state requires the county to pay, which the county must pay for out of its own budget with no help from the state. In the 2023 budget unfunded mandates include increased cost of health insurance, $155,000; increased cost of Arizona Retirement Plans, $119,000; increased cost of liability insurance, $70,000; and increased cost for Arizona Long Term Care System for residents lacking ability to pay, $532,000. There was a total of approximately $900,000 in increases to unfunded state mandates to the county, according to Chavez. 

County staff recommended that both the primary and secondary county tax rates remain the same as last year at 4.0515 and 0.9103. For residents who experienced property assessment increases this year, the tax increase would be $9.86 for every $100,000 of assessed value, plus local district tax rates. 

For Sonoita and Elgin residents, secondary school and fire district taxes add $5.6747 to the tax bill, bringing the total tax rate to $15.5347. For a property valued at $300,000, that translates to a property tax bill of approximately $4,660.

After listening to a member of the audience speak about the the high tax rate, Supervisor Manuel Ruiz commented that “We’ve been very conservative in taxing and spending the public’s money. ” He blamed the tax rate on the secondary taxes. “It’s because of the other tax districts,” he said. 

Even though the tax rate did not change, higher assessments along with new construction starts will generate about $704,674 more for county than last year, according to County Manager Jennifer St. John. 

The approved total budget is $131,767,756, a little over $20 million higher than last year, mostly due to actual and anticipated state and federal grants. A significant increase in the budget for Capital Projects from about $2.5 million to $14.7 million are mostly funded by grants for upgrades to the Nogales International Airport and the Ephraim Canyon Flood Project which will develop a retention basin in Nogales between I-19 and the Mariposa Port of Entry to control water flow and protect historic flood damage to the infrastructure. 

Staff also recommended a 6% cost of living increase for employees across the board and a minimum wage adjustment, which would total an additional $655,000 of which $501,000 is for salaries and $144,000 is for benefits. Last year, the board adopted a significant change in the county salary structure consisting of a new pay scale with 12 steps in each grade level with a 3% increase between steps. The step increases are guaranteed every three years. They also approved a 3% cost of living increase across the board. The cost to taxpayers last year exceeded $500k and the step increases will cost about $90,000 each year.