County treasurer says senator missed the mark on property tax criticism

Photo by Jeremy Duda | Arizona Mirror

The Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office said it is fully complying with a law requiring it to mail out annual property tax statements, despite a state senator’s accusation that it’s ignoring the new requirement.

Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, blasted county Treasurer Royce Flora’s office on Thursday for “thumbing its nose at state law.” 

During the 2019 legislative session, Leach sponsored Senate Bill 1033. The bill, which the Arizona House of Representatives passed unanimously and which passed the Senate with only four dissenting votes, requires county treasurers to send property tax statements to all mortgage holders. Prior to the new law, treasurers only had to send such statements to mortgage holders who specifically requested them.

But rather than send “detailed tax information” to all property owners, as it has for decades, Leach said Flora’s office instead sent statements that directed homeowners on how to obtain that information through its “clunky online system.”

“This childish move is a clear attempt to undermine the intent of the law and does little to inform taxpayers of their tax bill. What they did was a waste of time and taxpayer money. Maricopa County residents deserve transparency,” Leach said. 

Regardless of the intent, the treasurer’s office is in fully compliance with the letter of the law, spokesman Ron Bellus said.

SB1033 requires annual property tax statements, but says the format “may be in any form established by the county treasurer.” Bellus said the detailed information on individual taxing jurisdictions is all available online for anyone who wants to view it, and any property owner can request a mailed statement. 

Leach’s broadside against his fellow Republican came one day after the Arizona Republic reported that Flora’s office was only sending property tax statements to mortgage lenders and property owners who don’t have mortgages. 

Bellus said Flora’s predecessor, Hos Hoskins, stopped sending notices in 2016 to property owners with mortgages because those taxes are generally paid by the lender, not the property owner. He described it as a cost-cutting move and said it cost $230,000 for the treasurer’s office to print and mail the statements, which he called an unfunded mandate by the legislature. Replacing the postcards with larger statements containing detailed information would cost an additional half million dollars, Bellus said.

“Quite honestly, I have no idea why Sen. Leach is upset,” Bellus said.

Leach ran the bill at the request of the Arizona Tax Research Association, a conservative nonprofit group that focuses on property tax issues. Jennifer Stielow, ATRA’s vice president, told Arizona Mirror that she’s heard some homeowners in the Valley have received tax statements in recent days, though she noted that she hasn’t yet received hers. Stielow said unpaid property taxes are considered delinquent on Nov. 1.

The statements only show the total amount of property taxes owed for the current and past years, Stielow said, rather than detailed information on how much is owed to each separate taxing jurisdiction, such as the county, city and school district. Stielow said Maricopa County historically has included that information in its annual tax statements, but stopped a few years ago.

She acknowledged that the law doesn’t mandate detailed breakdowns of property taxes, but criticized the treasurer’s office for doing only the “bare minimum” required of it. 

“We might have to go back to the legislature and tweak the statute to require the detailed tax information be printed in the tax statement,” she said.

Flora and ATRA have butted heads in the past over failed legislation pushed by the treasurer’s office that would eliminate property taxes for low-income seniors. Bellus said ATRA is hostile to the treasurer’s office, and attributed its criticism of the property tax statements to bad blood over past legislative fights. 

Stielow said ATRA’s criticism has nothing to do with Flora’s elderly assistance proposal.

Leach did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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.”