Property tax refunds when cities don't manage 'public nuisances' heads to Arizona ballot

By Greg Hahne
Bob Christie/Capitol Media Services
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2024 - 2:46pm

a sign banning sitting or lying on sidewalks at
Tim Agne/KJZZ
A sign banning sitting or lying on sidewalks at "The Zone" homeless encampment in downtown Phoenix.

The Arizona Legislature passed a ballot measure that would allow property owners to apply for property tax refunds if their local governments don't address illegal camping, panhandling or "public nuisances.”

It passed the House and Senate on party line votes.

Democratic Sen. Priya Sundareshan opposed the bill, saying it would take away critical funding for cities. 

"Things like police and other very important, needed city services. And so I'm so confused why we're rushing to, in essence, defund the police when I know my colleagues on the other side have a problem with that," she said. 

The measure will go before voters in November. 

If approved by voters, property owners will be allowed to apply for a refund if they can show they had expenses because a city, town or county had a policy of not enforcing or failed to enforce laws often broken by the homeless population. That includes illegal camping, loitering, panhandling, public urination or defecation, public consumption of alcoholic beverages or drug use.

"This bill … ensures that hardworking taxpayers will no longer will be forced to bear the burden of the city’s refusal to do its duty to protect the public health and safety,'' House Speaker Ben Toma, a Republican, said during a committee hearing on the measure last month.

Toma said his measure was prompted in part by a fight between the city of Phoenix and business owners whose property is near a homeless encampment known as "The Zone." Business owners in the area sued Phoenix over what they said was a public nuisance. A judge sided with them last year and ordered Phoenix to clear out the area.,/p>

Lobbyists for counties and cities said they were constrained by federal court rulings that prevent them from clearing out encampments if there are not enough shelter beds to house those people. Those rulings preventing many enforcement actions were issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Arizona and eight other states.

The ballot referral is among at least 16 that are being considered in the Senate or House this year, many of which tackle "culture war'' topics that have scant hope of being signed by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

More stories about homelessness from KJZZ's The Show

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