Local organizers held a third town hall style meeting at the Sonoita Fairgrounds on Nov. 12 to discuss property taxes and the possible secession of Sonoita, Elgin and Canelo from Santa Cruz County.
Sonoita Elgin Community Group Chair David Green moderated the meeting, which drew more than 100 residents. He introduced guests Judge Keith Barth, of Sonoita, and State Senator Gail Griffin. Griffin represents Legislative District 14 in the Arizona State Senate, which includes portions of 4 counties; Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, and Pima. Santa Cruz County District 3 Supervisor Bruce Bracker was invited to attend, but was not present.
Green then turned the meeting over to committee members who reported on several topics. Property tax issues included the higher than average secondary taxes for schools in the Sonoita/Elgin area, the disproportionate taxation and valuation of the east side of the county, and a meeting held with the Cochise County assessor.
Information on upcoming educational seminars on how to appeal property tax valuations was also presented. Updates on the secession movement included an overview of a meeting held with State Senator Gail
Griffin, and a meeting with the Cochise County Board of
Supervisors, held on Oct. 23.
Judy Neal, of Elgin, reported that the Sonoita School District, which includes the Elgin School and the Patagonia Union High School comprises 40.75% of residents’ property tax bills. The per pupil cost per student is more than $20,000, compared to the state average of $9,653.
Britta Kuhn, who monitors the County Board of Supervisors meetings, then gave a report. She was followed by Matt Parrilli, of Elgin, who leads the property tax investigation for the group. Several graphs were presented that showed that Sonoita, Elgin and Patagonia residents pay a disproportionate amount of property tax, 115% more per square foot than the west side of the county. After talking with the Cochise tax assessor, Parrilli reported that there could be little change in the property valuations if the area were annexed to Cochise County. He also reported on a meeting his committee had with the Goldwater Institute, who has offered help in finding a tax lawyer to review the area’s property valuation inequality.
Gary Cooper then spoke about the process for appealing property valuations with the county. There have been two meetings scheduled, Feb. 13 and March 6, at the fairgrounds to help people understand their tax bills and how to appeal them.
David Green reported on meeting with State Senator Gail Griffin. Griffin is willing to sponsor a bill to allow the area to secede. The bill, which is in the process of being drafted, would require that 51% of the residents of Sonoita, Elgin and Canelo would have to vote in favor of secession, according to
Green, and that 51% of the residents of Cochise County would have to vote in favor of the area joining that county. The rest of Santa Cruz County would have no say in the vote for
secession, according to Green. Griffin spoke to the group saying that “Coming up with a marketing plan is very critical.” She felt that the support of the three area legislators,
State Senator Andrea Dalessandro, and Representatives Rosanna Gabaldon and Daniel Hernandez, was crucial to the success of the bill.
Green reported on a meeting held with the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, “Our purpose for meeting with the Cochise Board of Supervisors was merely an introduction as well as an explanation why we are doing what we are doing,” Green said in a phone interview after the meeting.
The town hall meeting was then opened up for audience comment. Several people spoke for and against the idea of joining Cochise County. Ron Pitt, President of the Patagonia High School Board, discussed the possibility of the Sonoita and Patagonia school districts combining as a cost saving possibility. One audience member, who moved to the area from
Cochise County, was opposed, praising the education his son was getting at PUHS. “There has been no discussion of the impact of annexation on the schools,” Neal said. There was agreement that this was an area that merited further study.
Speakers in favor of joining Cochise County cited the frustration felt in the community after the closing of the Justice of the Peace Court in Sonoita, and a feeling that the county ignored the area while overburdening the residents with high taxes.