Lake Havasu City, AZ – Congressman Paul Cook from California’s 8th Congressional District introduced HR 4313, the Historic Routes Preservation Act. This bipartisan bill provides an administrative means for the federal government to confirm rights-of-way on public lands administered by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture. “This bill has been a long time coming and has taken countless hours of work by our Lobbyist Robert Weidner and Gerry Hiller, the Executive Director of QuadState Local Governments Authority,” Supervisor Buster Johnson stated. “Robert Weidner and Gerry Hiller did the heavy lifting in DC meeting with Congressional staff and legislators to explain and garner support,” Johnson continued. Supervisor Buster Johnson was instrumental in advocating a bill introduced yesterday in Congress to protect Mohave County’s historic roads and rights of way across federal lands in the county and public lands throughout the west. For years counties, like Mohave, have owned and maintained roads across federal lands only to find out recently that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maps do not reflect County ownership, control or maintenance. Amazingly, BLM Master Title Plats do not reflect the existence of Route 66, one of America’s treasured landmarks. Supervisor Johnson decided to recommend legislation to include process changes in public lands management which were picked up by our friend across the Colorado River, California Congressman Paul Cook (R) who represents the California Desert Counties. At home, Johnson was key in answering questions raised by Arizona’s Ann Kirkpatrick as she considered whether to be the lead Democrat promoting the bill in Congress. “I was happy to advocate this proposal to Congresswoman Kirkpatrick and her staff and urge that she sign on to the bill on behalf of counties across Arizona, and I am pleased that what I told her helped resolve her questions,” Johnson explained “As a bipartisan bill, the measure has a much better chance of receiving fair consideration from both sides in Congress,” Johnson added. According to Johnson, HR 4313 creates no mandatory financial obligation for counties. “Counties will have the option to voluntarily use this piece of legislation to benefit them or not,” Johnson stated. “For those who do take advantage of this legislation, the burden of proof to have a right-of-way recognized under this bill will be with the governmental unit that files and administrative costs to the federal government should be minimal. The savings seen by counties will far outweigh any administrative costs,” Johnson continued. “The fact is that if this bill were the law of the land, counties like Mohave would save millions and the BLM would have to recognize that roads that are actually in existence by any normal measure of that standard, do in fact, exist and rightfully belong to the counties” Johnson concluded. To read the entire context of HR 4313 please click here: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-114hr4313ih/pdf/BILLS-114hr4313ih.pdf HR 4313 has been assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Lake Havasu City, AZ – Supervisor Buster Johnson would like to make the public aware that the Treasurer’s Office has decided not to open the two satellite offices in Lake Havasu and Bullhead City as previously planned for collection of tax payments. Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom advised Treasurer Cindy Cox that not accepting cash payments at the satellite offices was a violation of 1 U.S. Code § 5103 that states that United States coins and currency are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues. “Cash payments have been accepted in the past with only one staff personnel at each location,” Supervisor Johnson said. According to Treasurer Cox, an additional $200,000 of needed security and personnel would be needed at each satellite office before cash payments could be allowed. “While different options were laid out for ways residents could still pay their tax payment in person without having to drive to Kingman or mail it in, the Treasurer still decided to shut down both locations for the time being,” Johnson continued. According to Johnson, there are solutions out there that should be looked in to. “We are here to serve the people, and if they want to pay their property tax bill in person they should be allowed to,” Johnson stated. “An example of a no cost solution for county taxpayers is to mirror what Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office has done for over 10 years and that is partner with a bank branch,” Johnson suggested. “Maricopa County partners with Chase Bank to allow constituents who want to pay with a check the option of going to any Chase branch in the state with a check and their tax payment coupon. With Chase’s system, the bank is able to directly import the tax payer’s data and payment information to the Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office electronically with very little paperwork and no risk of information getting lost in the mail,” Johnson explained. “They have partnered with Chase specifically for the past five years with no cost to county taxpayers. This is just one example of a solution for local residents. We need to be looking for solutions not just closing the doors,” Johnson continued. Johnson suggested a low cost solution the Treasurer could consider is to partner with another county department already located in Lake Havasu and Bullhead. “The Treasurer could agree to pay half of an employee’s salary and benefits from that department, and along with that employee’s everyday duties, they could also be available to constituents year round who want to pay their taxes in person,” Johnson said. Supervisor Johnson stated that prior to 2014 his office collected payments year round from residents who wanted to pay with cash or money order. “I have never heard of an issue arising regarding security and the collection of tax payments at the satellite offices,” Johnson said. “My office gladly accepted the payments until we were told we were no longer allowed to,” Johnson continued. Johnson also stated that a … Continue Reading →
Cyber Security Tip of the Day For National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM): Protect online accounts with a different password for each. Passwords need at least eight characters, letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid using any part of your name, phone number or birth date. Be careful with email auto-complete. This is an email feature that automatically completes a name for you when you begin typing it in the TO field. However, your email client can easily complete the wrong name for you. If you are emailing anything sensitive, always be sure to check the TO field a second time before hitting the send button. Make sure you have anti-virus software installed on your computer and that it is automatically updating. However, keep in mind that no anti-virus can catch all malware; your computer can still be infected. That is why it’s so important you use common sense and be wary of any messages that seem odd or suspicious. Rogue software or “scareware” is fake antivirus or security software. Bad guys usually try to get you to install it by generating a pop-up window as you surf the web. The “updates” or “alerts” in the pop-up windows call for you to take some sort of action, such as clicking to install the software, accept recommended updates, or remove unwanted viruses or spyware. When you click, the rogue security software downloads to your computer. It takes only a few seconds to secure your computer and to help protect it from unauthorized access. Lock down your computer every time you leave your desk. If you’re using a windows computer, press Ctrl–Alt—Delete before you walk away! On a Mac? Try Control–Shift– Power Banking Trojans can use a malicious webpage to ask you for your cell phone number and then attempt to install a malicious app that can bypasses security systems. Your bank will not distribute apps in this way. It is always recommended that folks download apps from the official app store and never through unknown text messages or websites. Before submitting your credit card number when shopping online, always look for the “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar to be sure your information is secure during transmissions and make sure “https” appears in the website’s address bar. The “s” stands for “secure” indicating that communications are encrypted. USB drives, Flash Memory Cards, CD-ROMs, and other external devices can be infected with viruses and malware. Always make sure to scan them using virus scan software before opening files on them, especially if those files were not put on the device by yourself. Email is the gateway to almost every other account a user may have. When someone loses or forgets an account password, the reset is sent to his or her email. Cyber security experts suggests email users set up multi-factor authentication, which means more than just a password is required for access; a code may be sent via text message that a user must also input for access, for example. It’s something … Continue Reading →
Lake Havasu City, AZ –La Paz County along with the Arizona Association of Counties (AACo) have filed a joint amicus brief with the Arizona Supreme Court in support of Mohave County’s standing in the Planet Ranch water rights case. AACo represents Arizona’s 15 counties across the state and over 331 elected officials. “I want to sincerely thank AACo and La Paz County in supporting our standing on this issue. Their support shows the importance of Arizona counties being allowed to stand up and participate in matters important to their jurisdiction,” Supervisor Buster Johnson stated. In AACo and La Paz County’s joint amicus brief, they explained the importance of Arizona counties being allowed to participate in matters pertaining to the use, consumption, conservation and transfer of water resources within their jurisdiction. One of Mohave County’s argument against the sever and transfer of water rights at Planet Ranch was that they were not involved in settlement agreements nor notified in a timely matter. “Mohave County’s concerns were never heard and we were completely left out of negotiations when it came to the drafting of the Bill Williams River Water Settlement Act,” Johnson stated. “This amicus brief shows support of our standing from an outside organization that does not have a direct relation to this case. By AACo filing this brief, it gives Mohave County a stronger voice,” Johnson continued. Maricopa Superior Court Judge, Crane McClennen, ruled back in June that Mohave County has the right to object to Freeport McMoRan’s proposed water rights transfers within its jurisdiction on behalf of its constituents. According to Johnson, the water rights transfer would take about 10,000 acre feet of water away from Mohave County citizens. “This large amount of water amounts to roughly 3.26 billion gallons which is enough to provide water to well over 20,000 homes,” Johnson said. Freeport filed an appeal in regards to Judge McClennen’s ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court who agreed to hear the case in the beginning of this month. The Supreme Court will now decide if they will accept the amicus brief into the final record.
Lake Havasu City, AZ – During a presentation to the Mohave County Board of Supervisors on May 4th, Bob Saul with Stockton Hill Farms gave an informational presentation to the board about the farm’s activities and water issues. According to Saul, Stockton Hill Farms will be farming 12,000 acres by 2017 and will use 60,000 to 70,000 acre feet of water a year. After Saul’s presentation, Supervisor Buster Johnson questioned the accuracy of the figures presented. “If Stockton Hill plans to farm 12,000 acres of alfalfa with part drip irrigation and part pivots at the industry baseline of 8 acre feet of water per year, that adds up to 96,000 acre feet per year,” Johnson stated. “This figure is exceptionally larger than the numbers presented to the board,” Johnson continued. According to Johnson’s figures, when adding up the water being used by both Kingman Farms and Stockton Hill it amounts to 192,000 acre feet per year. “This will drastically reduce the aquafer and could cause local wells to run dry. It could also threaten the water supply for the city of Kingman,” Johnson explained. “With water being so tight, it is important that the numbers presented to the board by these farmers are adding up.” During the presentation, Saul claimed that the alfalfa currently being farmed is taking very little of the 15 million acre-feet of water available in the Hualapai Valley basin aquafer. Yet testimony given during a recent water meeting hosted by the Central Arizona Project showed that the alfalfa being farmed by farms, such as Stockton Hill, is one of the most water-intensive crops. Johnson stated during the meeting that he feels more research needs to be done on the amount of water being used. “Water resources are invaluable, and to not have full transparency when presenting this information to the Board of Supervisors and the public is sad indeed!” Johnson ended.
Law Would Have Cost County Taxpayers Thousands Lake Havasu City, AZ – Reconsideration of SB1071 failed 28 to 31 yesterday in the Arizona House of Representatives. The bill, originally sponsored by Arizona State Senator Steve Smith, would have put a $500 cap on fees that a county treasurer may charge for a tax lien deed where ten or more parcels are involved. Supervisor Buster Johnson, Chair of the Arizona Association of Counties (AACo) Legislative Committee, reached out in opposition to the bill. “This was special legislation aimed at helping a private investor in Pinal County,” Supervisor Johnson stated. “I want to thank Representative Cobb for voting against this bill and for recognizing that this was poorly written and would have harmed Arizona’s counties,” Johnson continued. According to AACo, the majority of the treasurer’s in Arizona were against SB1071 stating that if passed it would have set a president for future tax liens that would have cost county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. “If this bill would have passed a million dollar investor would have end up paying a little over .17 cents per parcel in tax lien deed fees while regular county taxpayers are still paying $50,” Johnson explained. The bill was originally brought about after Phoenix area attorney and multi-million dollar investor Wayne Howard purchased 2,922 tax lien properties in Pinal County resulting in him having to pay a fee of $146,100 to get them deeded through the Pinal County Treasurer’s Office. “Anyone who buys a lien knows the costs when bidding and they make a business decision at that time as to the worth and their investment,” Johnson stated. Current state law allows third parties to purchase properties through tax lien sales after a property owner is delinquent on their taxes for three years. The owners of the lien may then initiate foreclosure proceedings if the landowner does not pay what they owe plus penalties. If the third party obtains a court-ordered judgment on the foreclosure, the third party is then required to obtain a deed transferring the property from the debtor to the third party. The current fee for the issuance of each deed is $50 according. According to Johnson, the current fee only covers half of what it costs the treasurer’s office to transfer the deed. “A breakdown of the actual cost to process these deeds amounts to $97 per deed,” Johnson explained. “At the $50 level we can process them and it still costs the county taxpayers some money,” Johnson continued. “If we put a $500 cap on deeds of ten or more, regular citizens are still being forced to pay the $50 fee while multi-million dollar investors are getting over a 90% reduction,” Johnson stated. Johnson also believes that the language of the bill would not have held up in court. “Legally you cannot bundle multiple deeds. They need to be done individually,” Johnson stated. “If it is a subdivision for example with multiple lots it cannot be put back as one piece … Continue Reading →
Lake Havasu City, AZ – On Monday March 23rd, HB2128 was signed into law allowing state assessment ratios on property leased to churches or religious organizations to be reduced by 95%. According to Supervisor Buster Johnson, the reduction will only further impact the state’s troubled financial situation. “This bill will result in property tax losses for local governments as well as cost the state upwards to $2.1 million by fiscal year 2016,” Johnson stated. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) currently predicts that by the end of the fiscal year state expenditures will be $257 million more than state revenue. The courts have also ruled that the state owes $1.3 billion to the schools for inflation back payments which lawmakers have not paid nor included in their current budget. “With the financial situation of both the state and counties, instead of legislators looking to close up loop holes they are adding more exemptions,” Johnson stated. “This reduction with also further hurt other taxing jurisdictions within the counties such as schools and fire districts,” Johnson continued. According to Supervisor Johnson, this legislation is both costly and unnecessary. “Some commercial property owners help with lease payments for churches. The county’s libraries and senior centers are also available to all non-profits if they need space until they can afford to get their own building. We currently have one church who holds their Sunday service at the library for this very reason,” Johnson explained. Under current Arizona law, buildings owned by churches or religious entities already receive a significant tax break. This bill will allow the landlords who rent to these organizations to receive the same break. According to Mohave County Assessor Ron Nicholson this is a significant reduction. “Instead of a commercial property owner paying taxes based on 18% of the property’s value, they will now pay 1% of that value,” Nicholson explained. An amendment added HB2128 would require the churches to sign an affidavit stating the savings was passed onto them. “With the passage of this bill, more of the state budget is being funded on the backs of homeowners,” Johnson stated. In 2011, state lawmakers passed a corporate income tax reduction of 0.5 percentage points a year, settling at 4.9% in 2018 along with a 10% reduction in various business property-tax category assessments. Supervisor Johnson feels this tax break makes an unequal playing field among non-profits and takes taxable property off the tax rolls. “By offering this tax break to property that is being leased we are doing unforeseen harm to the housing market by removing property that would otherwise bring in revenue for counties and the state,” Johnson said. “With other non-profits not getting this break, it could also open the door for more tax breaks in coming years for other types of organizations. This is bad legislation and will cost the state a considerable amount of revenue and hurt local taxpayers over time,” Johnson ended. The bill passed the House on a 33-25 vote … Continue Reading →
Lake Havasu City, AZ – Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson is urging the Arizona Congressional delegation to support municipal bonds and to oppose proposals that would eliminate or cap the deduction on tax-exempt municipal bonds in the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Proposal. “Municipal bonds are a primary funding source for infrastructure projects in cities and counties throughout the United States,” Supervisor Johnson said. “These projects create numerous jobs and economic growth, and it is imperative that their tax-exempt status remain unchanged,” Johnson continued. Tax-exempt bonds were written in the first tax code in 1913 and are a well-established financing tool for state and local government. They are mainly issued for governmental infrastructure and capital needs purposes. “Mohave County does not use municipal bonds for its improvement projects, however; the incorporated cities within the county use them to help taxpayers save on the debt issued for capital projects such as the construction or improvement of city roads, water and sewer systems and other public works projects,” Johnson explained. According to a report by the National Association of Counties (NACo), over the last decade municipal bonds have saved local governments in Arizona roughly $36.1 billion. If signed into law, President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget would place a 28% limit on the value of specified deductions or exclusions from adjusted gross income and all itemized deductions; the limit would apply on interest earned for new and outstanding state and local tax exempt bonds. NACo’s report estimates a 28% cap would cost Arizona taxpayers roughly $3.8 billion. “This cap would increase borrowing costs to public entities and could potentially shift these costs to local residents through tax or rate increases,” Johnson said. Through the use of tax-exempt municipal bonds, state and local governments invested 2.5 times more in infrastructure than the federal government over the last decade. NACo reported that local governments saved roughly $1.9 million in infrastructure construction in the last decade alone by funding millions of infrastructure projects with the help of municipal bonds. “Placing a cap on municipal bonds would have a dire effect on Mohave County’s economic and financial future,” Johnson stated. “These tax-exempt bonds have and can continue to save the taxpayers money by offering lower interest rates on infrastructure projects throughout the county,” Johnson ended.
Lake Havasu City, AZ – Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson is deeply disappointed with the actions of Congress and the Arizona delegation for their approval of the Bill Williams River Water Settlement Act of 2014, HR 4924 and S 2503, which are supposed to design a fair and equitable settlement of numerous claims within the Bill Williams River Watershed. Among the parties involved are the Hualapai Tribe, U.S. Dept. of Interior (acting for themselves and the Tribe), Arizona Game and Fish, and Freeport McMoRan Minerals Corporation. “This is an extremely complicated issue in which HR 4924 attempts to conjoin two separate settlement agreements in an attempt to satisfy various interests in the Big Sandy River/Planet Ranch Water Rights settlement agreement and the Hualapai Tribe/Bill Williams River Water Rights settlement agreement,” Johnson said Friday. “It is unfortunate that our Congressional delegation, including the sponsors Senator Jeff Flake and Congressman Paul Gosar, who represent Mohave County in Congress, ignored local concerns in favor of single constituent legislation which will benefit a special interest group.” Gosar has hailed the passage of HR 4924 as a trigger for good paying jobs and additional tax revenue associated with continued use of the Bagdad Mine. Gosar also claimed that his legislation was scored by the Congressional Budget Office as revenue neutral for the federal government. “It’s absolutely mindboggling that Congressman Gosar did not heed the concerns of Mohave County Assessor Ron Nicholson,” Johnson said. “He provided a complete background report on this proposed settlement demonstrating significant negative impacts on our tax resource base in Mohave County. It’s also a shame that Congressman Gosar ignored the public stance of the coalition of Mohave County Chambers of Commerce as well as the documented history of Mohave County government in opposing this rip-off of Mohave County resources. The water and lands are in Mohave and La Paz Counties but neither was asked or allowed to participate in their own futures,” Johnson explained. “The Mohave County Board of Supervisors has communicated their deep concerns on previous occasions to Congressman Gosar but it appears he is unwilling to consider the concerns of Mohave County, and instead favors the corporate interests of Freeport McMoRan and the Bagdad Mine,” Johnson continued. “At a time when Congress cannot pass let alone balance a budget, fix immigration or address healthcare, our delegation finds time to contact every member of congress for their support on stripping Mohave County of its natural resources. These same Congressmen who lamented ‘Generational Theft’ have stripped Mohave County’s ability for economic growth. It is a sad day in our state when our elected federal officials choose to favor special interest groups over the well-being of those taxpayers living in the area. We did not send them to D.C. to be puppets for the mining company Freeport McMoRan or any other special interest group,” Johnson stated. Johnson closed by noting, “It has always been a hallmark of Republican orthodoxy that deference should be paid to priorities established by the level of government … Continue Reading →
Lake Havasu City, AZ – Supervisor Buster Johnson was invited to speak at the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) conference this past week in Columbia, Maryland, to represent the National Association of Counties (NACo). The two day conference brought together more than 140 leaders from the academic world, the technology industry, and federal and local government to discuss the future cybersecurity educational needs of the nation. Supervisor Johnson, 1st Vice President of NACo’s Cybersecurity Task Force, spoke on a four person panel that focused on developing a sustainable cyber workforce for small businesses and state and local government. The NICE initiative focuses on cybersecurity awareness, education and the workforce. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the initiative is taking new actions to increase the number of individuals who are prepared for in-demand cybersecurity jobs as well as provide a common classification by which to organize and categorize workers. DHS crafted the NICE initiative from the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. During the panel discussion, Johnson spoke about how local governments across the nation are competing with the private industry for cybersecurity personnel. Johnson suggested that local governments should focus their attention on training and incentives to attract and retain the personnel needed to combat cybersecurity in today’s digital age. Johnson also suggested that small businesses and local governments should set up internship programs for college students. “Most college students are focusing on landing a job at a large company or organization after they graduate, such as the NSA. If we can get colleges to recognize the benefit of working for a small business or local government, we will have a better chance at retaining them,” Johnson said. According to Johnson, smaller companies and local governments offer more freedom for IT professionals. “In a company with just 10 IT employees, versus one with over 500, you are recognized and have a greater chance for advancement and learning,” Johnson explained. Part of the discussion also focused on the new Next Generation 9-1-1 system that will pose a challenge for local governments and IT professionals in the upcoming years. In addition to calling 9-1-1 from a phone, the new system intends to enable the public to transmit text, images, video and data to the 9-1-1 dispatch center. “Technology is changing on a daily basis, and local governments need to ensure their employees are staying on top of these changes,” Johnson ended.