Written Answers for Today’s Pima County Treasurer’s Debate

Curt and I offered to publish the written answers to Curt’s debate questions prior to the debate today. Both candidates were given the questions in advance in order to provide the most comprehensive answers with any references the candidates wished to cite. As of time of publication, we have not received Sami Hamed’s answers (we will publish them here if and when we get them). Here are Brian Johnson’s answers.

Q: Most voters know the Treasurer’s position exists, but they may not know exactly
what a Treasurer does. What do you see as a Treasurer’s main duties?

In Arizona, the county Treasurer’s office is best described as the de facto tax collector and the
county’s banker. These are the essential duties of the Treasurer:

    • Collecting property taxes, for real and personal property, and other revenues from assessments, state funding and other local government revenues.
    • Maintaining accounts for the governmental entities in the county (School districts,
      fire districts, Pima County Community College, library system, etc.)
    • Disbursement of funds to the governmental entities as required. Managing the
      cash flow so funds are always available as needed.
    • Investment of public funds according to statute and regulation ensuring the safety
      and liquidity of those funds.
    • Maintain records and issue reports as required by law and audit regulations.
      One of the essential steps in the tax collection process is to prepare, or assemble, the tax roll
      and issue tax statements. There is no statutory requirement for the Treasurer to do this; there is
      no statutory direction for any office in the tax administration system to create the tax roll.
      Naturally, this function has been the responsibility of the county Treasurer which is how it is
      done in all the Arizona counties except for Pima. For the past couple of decades, the county
      administrator had assumed the responsibility for the tax roll. Now, with changes in the county
      administration, it is still unclear how this process will get done in the future, but the next
      Treasurer needs to be aware and prepared to manage the inevitable changes.

    Q: What changes, if any, would you make at the Treasurer’s office?

    I see a need for a change in culture in the Treasurer’s office. And that would lead to some
    structural changes in the office with new units focusing on different aspects of service to the
    county’s citizens and businesses. Government is a service and that will be the focus of the
    manner in which I direct the operation of the Treasurer’s office.


    Almost all of the routine accounting and financial transaction functions the Treasurer’s office
    performs are software driven. A competent IT unit is essential to maintaining those systems. For
    many of the other employees, they are in clerical positions without a career path to incentivize
    performance and longevity. That is why the Treasurer’s office staff has dwindled to a couple of
    dozen employees over the years. The way to transform the situation is by creating responsible
    positions with which to serve the needs of the people, the community.


    Managing the short-term investments is an area needing improvement. I propose staff
    dedicated to working with the business community so that we can yield value from those
    investments that supports local prosperity. The Treasurer’s office has immense potential to be a
    valuable government resource.

    Q: The Treasurer is an elected position, but it’s not a policy-making position like a
    county supervisor. Do you see it as a political office to advance your party’s
    ideals? Why or why not?


    The Treasurer’s office is primarily ministerial, but it does not work in a political vacuum. One
    area where the Treasurer can have an impact is in the management of short-term investments
    of public money. I am promoting a Board of Supervisors investment policy, which the BOS
    hasn’t had one since 1995, to direct the Treasurer’s office in managing those investments in
    alignment with the Prosperity Initiative. And, as in the 1992 – 1995 investment policy, BOS
    Policy 16.1, there needs to be a measure of accountability as in quarterly reports. These reports
    would be made public.
    By inviting transparency through accountability, the Treasurer will inevitably work in alignment
    with the policies of the Board of Supervisors. An example is investment in climate resilience
    which is an element of the Prosperity Initiative. When we’re paying attention to our investments,
    we wouldn’t likely be investing in fossil fuel companies like Chevron, which was recently one of
    the investments listed in the Treasurer’s report.
    In a July 2022 Bloomberg article, our state Treasurer stated: “’We have the ability to go to
    companies that stand for the values that we believe in,’ Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee said in
    a phone interview.” She went on further to state her Republican values, which I don’t agree with,
    but this is how politics does get into offices like the Treasurer’s.

    Q: As Treasurer, you would have to deal with county residents who might not be
    able to pay their tax bills. How would you deal with overdue tax bills from low-
    income people?


    The Treasurer has a legal responsibility to collect all the property taxes that are due and
    there are statutory methods to ensure the taxes are paid to fund the various taxing
    jurisdictions in the county. This question addresses residential property, but delinquency
    occurs more with the commercial and vacant land classes of property.
    In most cases, low-income households are not homeowners. The property taxes on
    rental property are collected on a monthly basis from renters as part of their rent. For
    those who have sufficient income to qualify for home ownership, financing their homes,
    property taxes are included in their monthly house payments. So, the issue of low-
    income homeowners struggling to make the twice a year tax payment isn’t that
    prevalent.


    The one group of homeowners that may have an issue with paying property taxes are
    seniors on a fixed income who own their homes outright, thereby having to pay the
    taxes directly to the Treasurer’s office in October and April. For those seniors, there is a
    Senior Property Valuation Protection program administered by the Assessor’s office.
    There are other relief programs for distinct groups of homeowners, like disabled
    veterans, which are also administered through the assessor’s office. The reason the

      Assessor, and not the Treasurer, is responsible for the relief programs is because the
      valuation is the only adjustable element of the property tax. The rates, which are the
      results of the levies, are immutable once established on the third Monday of August.
      The Treasurer does have authority to establish payment programs, but the taxes and
      interest accrued through the delinquency cannot be mitigated or in any way diminished.
      Since it is the property, not the individual, that owes the tax, there is nothing the
      Treasurer can do legally for the individual. Still, there are also outside agencies that can
      help low-income property owners, especially for seniors, like the Pima Council on Aging.

      Q: The tax system is complicated. What steps would you take to educate the public
      about how the system works?


      Title 42 of the Arizona Revised Statutes is a complicated set of processes and rules that govern
      taxation in Arizona, and property tax consumes a good portion of it. A search for ‘county
      Treasurer’ yields 345 instances in which the Treasurer is referred to. Educating the Treasurer’s
      office staff of all the nuances contained in the statutes would alone be an immense undertaking.
      But a general understanding of how property tax is arrived at and applied should be explained to
      the public by the Treasurer and the office staff.


      There is a definite need for accessibility to information and understanding of property taxes. It
      will require a coordinated effort with the Assessor’s office and the BOS to explain how the
      property taxes are arrived at and what they are there for. Currently, the county administration
      has a property tax hot line that goes to the tax assembly unit in the Finance Department. Then,
      calls are directed to either the Treasurer or Assessor. Often this run-around causes frustration.
      I will propose that the Assessor and Treasurer integrate their data systems, so information is
      more accessible to anyone looking to plan a commercial or residential development, or to simply
      understand how an individual’s taxes are consistent in their neighborhood. The recorder’s office
      has already engaged with a software vendor, Tyler Technologies, to maintain the integrity of
      property records. The assessor’s office has used them to a certain extent and the
      superintendent of schools has also adopted elements of Tyler’s all-government data structuring.
      The Treasurer also needs to get on-board with Tyler Technology software.


      Once the property tax data is accessible across the different offices and departments, it can be
      presented to the public through Pima Maps. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity with
      today’s technology to make property tax information accessible and understandable. And staff
      positions can be developed on career paths where the employees can be a resource to the
      community. County government is a service organization, and I will run the Treasurer’s office
      accordingly.


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