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Thu, Feb. 20

Locals confront taxing issues<br>

At issue is a lawsuit filed by Xanterra in 2003 for relief from local property taxes. The concessionaire based its claims on similar successful suits filed in LaPaz County by the Havasu Springs Resort Co. in 1999 and in Coconino County by Aramark Sports and Recreation in 2001. In both cases, the concessionaires sought relief from property taxes because they occupied government-owned property. Xanterra prevailed in tax court and as a result, Tusayan’s primary assessed valuation dropped from nearly $22 million to $14.8 million. The change goes into effect for tax year 2004.

Following that decision, Xanterra filed suit to recoup taxes paid since 2000, claiming the company was “erroneously taxed.”

“The County Board of Commissioners is behind the issue, said Peru. “We’ve met with Rep. (Rick) Renzi and Sen. (John) McCain and both are very concerned about the impact this will have on the jurisdiction.”

According to Breen, the court cases pose two problems – the issue of refunding what Xanterra has paid since 2000 if the company wins in tax court, and the future loss of revenue – nearly $600,000 annually, $480,000 of that to the Grand Canyon School District.

School and county officials were confident that if the court rules in favor of Xanterra, the state would help financially.

“There’s a long history of the state paying those bills, especially since this problem isn’t of our doing,” said Breen.

While school impact aid will help close the gap on the school district’s share going forward, Peru said concerns still remain over the impact on the other taxing jurisdictions in the county, including fire protection and funding for the community college.

“School equity fills that gap (in district funding),” said Peru. “But other tax-setting entities don’t get that relief.”

Taxpayers were also concerned about the impact the change in valuation would have on the secondary tax rate, which is determined by community needs and set through bond and override elections.

“As far as the secondary tax rate, it’s cloudy what will happen,” said Tusayan resident Clarinda Vail. “What happens if you get a bond on a certified valuation and that valuation disappears?”

Peru said he didn’t have an answer, other than that the state provides no impact aid for school-related costs on the secondary tax rate, but he promised to look into the issue.

Unless something changes at the legislative level, he and Barwick said the burden will ultimately fall to taxpayers here. Peru said the issue is receiving national attention because it’s not unique to Arizona.

“The same thing is going on in other jurisdictions,” he said, citing similar issues with Yosemite National Park. “We’re looking for models we can use in Arizona. Rep. Renzi has discussed this with legislators in the Yosemite jurisdiction. We’re looking for a national perspective.”

One possible solution, he said, could be legislation that would require concessionaires to make payment in lieu of taxes.

Both emphasized the importance of keeping contact with legislators to push the issue.

“It wouldn’t hurt to put your legislators on notice so they keep this issue at the top of their list,” Peru said

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