Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Vail, if incorporated, needs a tax to succeed

Lost in the hullabaloo this week of Supreme Court decisions and cool cats prowling near proposed mines was the announcement that the attempt to incorporate the town of Vail will be on the November ballot.

Despite its overshadowing by other events, this is a pretty big deal for the Tucson region. County taxpayers surrender about $100 million a year in state shared revenues to other counties and their municipalities because only about 65 percent of the county is incorporated. The state, on a per capita basis, doles out an extra share of state revenues to municipalities.

Vail’s incorporation would be the first incorporation in the county in 20 years. If successful, there might be more thanks to a change in state law three years ago that diminishes the ability of existing municipalities to veto new towns or cities on or near their borders.

But success means more than voters approving the incorporation. It also means a viable town.

And viability means a tax.

The website run by the incorporation committee doesn’t say much about taxation. And why would it? Taxation is not something most Americans embrace warmly.

But at public meetings and in news media incorporation supporters have been more forthcoming about the need for a tax but they still hedge by saying a town tax “may” be necessary in the future but that will be up to the new citizens of Vail to decide.

Make no mistake potential Vailans – your nascent town will need a tax to operate.

All three of the small municipalities in the county – Oro Valley, Marana and Sahuarita – tried and failed to get by on just state shared revenue.

As each town looked insolvency in the face within five years or so of their incorporation, their leaders reluctantly turned to a tax.

And the people revolted. All three towns were plagued in their early histories by bitter elections and more than a few recall elections. Some of the disputes were over growth, but growth was still a proxy war over taxation. Each town found it needed to sell its soul to developers in order to generate the revenue it needed to operate.

All three towns have a sales tax and when it comes to economic development, all three give more consideration to businesses that sell taxable goods rather than businesses such as manufacturers who provide no long-term boost to the town fisc because the towns have no property tax.

And consider this – of the nearly 100 incorporated municipalities in Arizona, all collect a sales tax.

It would be more honest to promote Vail’s incorporation with a tax than to be mealy-mouthed about maybe needing one someday.

But the tax shouldn’t be a reason to vote against incorporation. If prospective Vailites run down the list of reasons to incorporate and nod their heads until they come to the tax and then shake it, that’s silly and short-sighted.

If you want your own government, if you want more local control, if you want better police service and more parks and better roads, you have to be willing to pay for it.

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