Gail Griffin

Sen. Gail Griffin. [Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services]

Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

Saying that's what the residents want, a Southern Arizona lawmaker wants to let voters in Green Valley, Sahuarita and surrounding areas split away from Pima County and be annexed into Santa Cruz County.

Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, said she has heard complaints from those living in the area that their county property taxes are too high. Griffin said they should be given the option of becoming part of a lower-tax county.

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Sauhuarita, who actually represents the majority of the population in the area, said the whole idea behind SB 1357 is a waste of time.

“People are very happy where they are,” she said. “They feel more connected with Tucson than Nogales.”

That includes her: If the split occurs, Dalessandro would find her Sahuarita home in Santa Cruz County.

Dalessandro said the legislation “probably” has less to do with what residents want and more to do with the push to create a new open pit mine in the Santa Rita Mountains, a mine that would be in Griffin's district. That's because the Pima County Board of Supervisors is objecting to the Rosemont Mine, a move that could complicate – if not doom – the company's plan.

She acknowledged, though, she has no proof that is the case.

“It has nothing to do with Rosemont,” Griffin countered.

“I haven't talked to Rosemont,” she continued. “They're welcome to give me a call and let me know how they feel.”

Griffin noted, though, that Santa Cruz County has one of the highest jobless rates in the state, registering at 17.3 percent in December.

“They certainly could use additional jobs,” she said.

The measure is structured in two parts.

First, it would require an affirmative vote by those in the affected area.

Griffin said that should be easy given the tax implications. Pima County's combined property tax rate, including bond repayments, flood control and the library district, exceeds $5 per $100 of assessed valuation. By contrast, Santa Cruz County, which has no bonds or a library district, is close to $1 less.

For a home assessed for tax purposes at $200,000, the difference would be about $200 a year.

But it isn't that simple.

Kevin McCarthy, executive director of the Arizona Tax Research Association, said residents of the area would remain liable for their share of bond repayments until that borrowing is paid off. There also would have to be a separate vote by residents of the existing Santa Cruz County to accept the new residents.

McCarthy said the big draw for them would be any assessed valuation the Rosemont mine would generate. He said pretty much the rest of the area is strictly residential, with low property tax collections.

The move, though, could have political considerations.

On one hand, it would be adding a fair number of Republicans to a county where Democrats now hold close to a 3-1 edge over the GOP, and it would dilute the political strength Green Valley Republicans now have, being able to elect a Republican supervisor.

Griffin, however, said she hears no such concerns from those living in the area.

“They would like to be part of Santa Cruz County,” she said. Griffin said her legislation simply gives those affected a chance to decide the issue.

“I haven't heard any negatives to this point in time,” she said.

That, however, could come when the measure gets a hearing before the Senate Committee on Government and Environment, which Griffin chairs. At this point the most likely date for a hearing is Feb. 17.

And Griffin said it's not like she – or even the Arizona Legislature – is mandating the change.

“It'll be a vote of the people,” she said.

But not all the people: The voters in the balance of Pima County would have no say or veto power.

“This is the way I was asked to draft it,” Griffin said.

Dalessandro said her constituents are sending her a different message.

“People are generally against it.” she said.

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