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County taxes, fees could rise 6.6%

Employee raises but only small additions earmarked for roads are included

Staff writer

After long deliberations in which no budgeted amounts were changed, county commissioners settled last week on a 2.5% property tax increase after first ensuring that enough money will be available to give every county employee a 1.5% raise — in addition to longevity, merit, and reclassification raises.

The tax increase will cost the owner of a typical house with a fair-market value of $86,800 an estimated $18.36 more next year, raising the county portion of that homeowners’ tax bill to $740.92.

But the budget proposed by commissioners doesn’t begin to tell the whole story of proposed county spending.

The 2.5% property tax increase is in addition to a previously approved $19, or 23.5%, increase in the county’s solid-waste fee per residence.

There’s also a largely hidden new tax. Extension costs, which used to be part of the county’s property tax bill, now will be covered by a separate property tax for a new joint extension district with Dickinson County.

That separate tax will cost the average homeowner an extra $17.30, swelling the effective increase in county property taxes and fees to $54.66, or 6.6% more than what taxpayers paid a year ago.

According to federal data obtained Sunday, that’s 14 times how much inflation has increased consumer prices in the 12 months that ended in June, the latest month for which data are available.

Not including personal property tax on items like automobiles, the typical county homeowner will pay $875.58 in taxes and fees next year if commissioners approve their spending plan after taxpayers have a chance to object at a public hearing at 9 a.m. Aug. 24.

Also included in the proposed spending plan are:

  • $140,000 to hire a new county administrator and support personnel.
  • $49,000 to continue paying for a county counselor, who has provided legal advice to commissioners since the county attorney switched to handling only criminal matters three years ago.
  • continued pay for two additional commissioners added last year.

What it won’t appreciably increase, unless commissioners decide to move things around after the budget is adopted, is the amount of taxpayer money set aside for roads and bridges.

This year, the county plans to spend $4,993,662 on roads and bridges. Adding in several bridge and equipment funds, a total of $5,683,021 is expected to be spent out of those accounts.

Last year, $5,145,731 was spent out of those accounts. For next year, the county is seeking only $3,671,036 in property tax money for those same accounts, though because of savings carried over and other revenue sources it legally could spend as much as $7,440,168.

Still, only $261.75 of the money a typical homeowner will be sending to the county next year will be earmarked for roads and bridges. That’s just $0.63 more than was similarly earmarked this year.

Other specifically earmarked tax money from the typical homeowner’s tax bill include:

  • $132.18 for employee benefits, up $16.87.
  • $52.88 for ambulance service, up $0.12.
  • $22.91 to pay for costs of appraising property, up $0.06.
  • $17.30 for extension because of the new tax separate from the county property tax.
  • $8.40 for the county lake, up $0.02.
  • $8.20 for the department on aging, up $0.02.
  • $8.14 to run elections, up $0.02.
  • $7.13 for what’s been one of the busiest departments this year, the department of health, up just $0.01.
  • $6.54 on noxious weeds, up $0.01.
  • $3.47, plus the increased $100.00 fee per residence, on solid waste, up just $0.01 from property taxes but $19.01 overall.

Much of the county’s spending comes out of its general fund, which commissioners can direct toward any other purpose they may desire — sheriff, clerk, treasurer, etc. — including extra money for any of the specifically itemized areas.

The $247.68 a typical taxpayer will contribute to the general fund will be $0.63 more than last year.

Owners of different types of property — farmland or businesses, for example — or properties with different values will pay different amounts, but the relative size of those amounts will be the same as described here.

Although tax rates will increase by larger percentages, overall property tax revenue sought by the county will increase more modestly because assessed value of county property is expected to decline 0.24%.

That means a 2.5% increase in tax rates will generate only 2.2% more tax revenue.

Although final numbers won’t be known for several months, that means $1.97 of the $18.36 increased tax bill for an average homeowner will be attributable solely to changes in valuation.

Commissioners spent several meetings discussing each line item in the budget, including a half-day session Thursday.

No changes were made to any of the amounts during that session despite repeated attempts to encourage discussion.

After several commissioners and their hired outside accountant made several references to commissioner Dianne Novak, who was defeated for re-nomination Tuesday, commissioner Randy Dallke pointedly asked Novak, who joined the meeting by computer:

“Chime in here, Dianne. I know you’ve got things you want to say.”

Novak declined, saying: “No, actually I have no comment. I’m really just listening. Thank you.”

A summary of the proposed budget is published, as required by law, in the classified section of this week’s paper.

Property taxes and fees are not the county’s sole sources of revenue, of course.

In the past 12 months, for example, the county has received $744,356.20 — what amounts to $138.91 a year per average household — in sales tax on items sold to county residents.

Last modified Aug. 13, 2020

 

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