The Town Council did not consider a proposed public safety fee as posted on the agenda when it met in regular session on Tuesday, Aug. 13.
The meeting opened with Councilman Dennis Brown announcing that due to “new legal challenges that could possibly put the town at risk,” the item was being removed from the agenda.
Just prior to the session the council was in a closed meeting and the fee was on the agenda to discuss with the town attorney.
Town Attorney Aaron Arnson told The Times town officials had received communication from a state representative who represents the community stating that there was a prospect of a legal challenge to the fee.
“At this point it was not a risk the council wanted to take,” Arnson said.
On July 15, council members and staff received an email from State Representative John Kavanagh stating he had received questions from constituents regarding the proposed fee and he had followed up with an inquiry to the office of the Arizona Legislative Counsel.
Kavanagh’s inquiry was in reference to the Town’s Environmental Fee, which was collected at $36 per year for four years before it was rescinded in conjunction with discussion related to a new public safety fee.
The counsel stated an opinion that, “Although called a fee, the assessment for environmental programs is most likely a tax on property. However, a town may impose a property tax only if that property tax is based upon the value of property.
“Since the assessment is a uniform amount per parcel and not based upon the value of each parcel, it does not fall within the authorization for a town property tax. I have found no other statutory authorization for this tax, so the Town probably did not have the authority to impose the assessment for environmental programs.”
The opinion also concluded that, “The town’s assessment for environmental programs is most likely a tax and not a fee. Because the statutes do not authorize a town to impose such a tax, the town exceeded its authority in imposing the assessment.”
Kavanagh also offered to request an opinion from the Arizona Attorney General regarding the issue.
In an email to The Times, Mayor Ginny Dickey said neither she, nor Arnson agree with the legislative opinion.
“Our proposal would have had all $185 deposited into a segregated public safety fund, with an audit and opportunity to rescind in 2021, and a hardship accommodation.
“Some of us decided to put the community first rather than ourselves. Months of distraction and divisiveness would not be productive even if ultimately we prevailed, which politically wasn’t likely,” Dickey said.
“When we talk about roads next month, we may get a clearer picture of what the 2020 budget will have to look like.
“So as those who sought to thwart us claim victory, you have to wonder at what price.”
The council had been prepared to consider imposing a public safety fee of $185 per year based on property parcels in town.
As part of the fee proposal the council had earlier voted to suspend the annual $35 environmental fee.
At its Aug. 13 session the council did pass an increase to the local transaction privilege tax or sales tax (see separate story).