Prop 403 addresses road maintenance on Navajo Nation
Three-tenths of one percent sales tax hike would raise around $7 mil to repair and service county maintained roads
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - According to officials with Coconino County, the maintenance of roads used by Navajo Nation school buses could suffer if voters don't approve Proposition 403 Nov. 4.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) or the Navajo Division of Transportation (NDOT) own and operate Navajo Nation roads. Coconino County does not own any roads on the Navajo Nation but does have a long-standing agreement with the BIA to maintain roads on the reservation.
According to Lucinda Andreani, deputy director for public works at the county, the loss of the money from a federal grant that the county had used to keep up the roads on the Nation plus a gas tax that has stayed at the same level since 1998 have both contributed to the county putting Prop. 403 on the ballot.
If approved, Prop 403 would add three-tenths of one percent to the sales tax rate for 20 years, which would raise an estimated $6 million to $7 million per year to be used to repair and service county-maintained roads. The three-tenths of one percent tax would be equal to be about $0.30 on a $100 purchase. Sales tax is not collected on grocery store food, medicine, prescriptions or gasoline.
Part of the money raised will go toward maintaining school bus routes on the Navajo Nation, according to Andreani.
"The board has decided that if this is approved by voters..., that we will actually increase the miles maintained by about 30 percent," Andreani said. "So that routine road maintenance service, grading those dirt roads, that's going to increase by 30 percent."
Also, specific to the Navajo Nation, the county is going to establish a county capital project with a matching price tag of $200,000. Those funds will match what the Navajo Division of Transportation has committed for a total of $400,000. The money will be dedicated to the school bus routes which routinely receive heavy monsoon rains and become nearly impassable in the winter.
"There are times up there when the kids literally don't get to school," Andreani said.
To fix those issues the county anticipates the money will be used in one of three ways: improving drainage by installing culverts and low water crossings, adding base materials to the dirt roads and cutting ditches alongside of the roads to move water away from the roads or to the culverts.
NDOT will develop shovel ready projects - the agency will manage the environmental clearances and the engineering for these projects.
Andreani emphasized that the state cannot sweep the money raised if the proposition passes because any money raised by Coconino County voters legally must stay in the county.
"The reason the state gets to control the gas tax is that they are the only ones who have the authority to impose the gas tax and allocate the funds from the revenue," Andreani said. "However when our voters approve [a tax] those funds come directly to the county and those funds cannot be touched by the state."
For those who claim the Navajo Nation does not pay sales tax, Andreani disagrees.
"They do pay sales tax, they don't pay property tax," Andreani said, adding that according to a study she has seen the overall regional impact of the Nation financially is something like $245 million.
If the proposition fails, Andreani anticipates any road service on the Navajo Nation will be hard to come by.
"If it fails, it's going to be extremely difficult for us to maintain any level of service up there," Andreani said. "If we don't get additional funds, it's is going to be very difficult. And that will have a pretty significant impact."