County treasurer candidates say use of tax statement to criticize lawmaker was inappropriate

Photo by Jeremy Duda | Arizona Mirror

The Republican and Democratic candidates who are vying to replace outgoing Maricopa County Treasurer Royce Flora said it was inappropriate for him to use an official property tax statement to criticize a state lawmaker, a move that Flora’s administration defended. 

Flora, who will leave office in January after losing the Republican primary in August, used an annual tax statement that goes out to all property owners in the county to criticize Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, for sponsoring legislation that makes the notices mandatory.

The legislation in question requires county treasurers to send detailed property tax statements to all mortgage holders. Leach sponsored the original bill in 2019 mandating county treasurers to mail out statements listing total property taxes due. This year, Leach sponsored a second bill requiring those statements to include more detailed information about how much is due to each taxing jurisdiction, such as school districts, cities and various special districts. Leach criticized Flora last year for not including that detailed information in the notices, though state law didn’t require it at the time.

The 2019 bill passed with only four dissenting votes, and the vote on the 2020 law was unanimous in both chambers of the legislature.

Flora opposed both bills on the grounds that the statements would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to print and mail, and argued that county treasurers should only have to send them to property owners who specifically want them. And in this year’s statements, he went out of his way to inform property owners who should be blamed for the policy.

“You are receiving this notice as a direct result of legislation sponsored by Senator Leach from Legislative District 11 in Pinal County,” the statement read. “Mr. Leach refused to allow for anyone to opt out or elect to receive this notice by email. This unfunded mandate cost the taxpayers of Maricopa County over $500,000 this year alone.”

Ron Bellus, a spokesman for Flora, defended the statements. He said Flora isn’t trying to settle some kind of score with Leach. He simply thinks taxpayers should know why the treasurer is sending out the notices and who is responsible.

“This is expensive. This costs money. This comes out of taxpayer funds,” Bellus said. “Transparency. We want to let people know where this is coming from.”

The two candidates who are vying to replace Flora in the November election took a distinctly different view of the situation.

John Allen, a Republican legislator who defeated Flora in the GOP primary in August, said his victory was “because of things just like this.” 

“We no longer have to put up with this kind of gamesmanship. If he has a personal problem with Senator Leach, he should write a letter on his own dime,” Allen said. “This is not his personal newsletter. This is supposed to be an official county document, and if he wants to make comments about individuals, he should send out a newsletter, not use county resources.”

Democratic nominee Dan Toporek took a similar view.

“To take cheap shots at personalities you don’t get along with, that’s not how public servants act,” he said. “I’m not going to use the office to help my political allies or hurt my political opponents. That’s just inappropriate behavior.”

Leach would not comment on the property statements. 

Bellus said Flora’s only objection to the law was that it doesn’t allow people to opt out of receiving physical copies of the statements, which would save money on printing and mailing costs. The treasurer’s office supports Leach’s efforts to increase transparency, Bellus said, but not everyone wants to receive a property tax statement.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors added $230,000 to the treasurer’s budget for the fiscal year 2021 to help pay for the property tax notice requirement, which Bellus noted only covers about half the cost of the notices. If the treasurer exceeds his budget, county spokesman Fields Moseley said he can ask the supervisors to provide money from a $400,000 contingency fund that the legislature included in the current state budget.

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”