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Mills fail to tell of soaring spending, disparities

Staff writer

Although proposed tax rates are rising in aggregate only 0.9%, total government spending in Marion County — absent the county itself — is poised to rise a whopping 21.8% next year.

If budgets submitted by governmental units are adopted, proposed authorized spending by local units of government will continue a two-year trend of rising 37.9% over what actual spending was in 2019.

Huge discrepancies exist in property tax rates among similar governmental units.

Among cities, Ramona will be the most taxed, with a tax rate of 105.420 mills.

On a typical Marion County house with a median fair market value of $86,800, that amounts to a property tax bill of $1,052.30 a year for city purposes alone.

That’s 5.8 times as much as the owner of an identical home in Lost Springs will pay.

The owner of an average $86,800 house in Marion will pay $246.33 more than he or she would if the same house were in Hillsboro. Here are other comparisons:

Part of the reason for rate disparities may be how deeply in debt cities are.

Hillsboro is the most heavily burdened by debt, with all reportable debt totaling 95.9% of the appraised value of all property in the city.

Comparing this to purchasing a new home, it would be as if Hillsboro could put down only 4.1% equity in its “house” while Marion, with a debt load of just 27.8%, would have a whopping 72.2% equity.

Both Hillsboro and Goessel have much greater debt loads that other county cities:

Excluding the county itself, which has not yet reported, county taxing units have $38.7 million in reportable debt:

Figures cited were obtained from analysis of proposed 2021 budgets submitted by governmental units to date for publication this year.

Each notice includes a time, date, and location for a public hearing at which taxpayers may question the proposal budget. At the conclusion of each hearing, the governmental unit typically adopts its proposed budget, with or without making changes to it.

Budget hearings usually are sparsely attended, and changes seldom are made.

More budget proposals will be released within the next week or two.

In the budget for the county itself, which (along with some other units’ budget proposals) has not been released yet, roads are always a major source of expenditure.

Property owners both rural and urban share the cost of maintaining rural roads, even though streets within cities are the sole responsibility of city taxpayers.

Because the county no longer employs a township system of road maintenance, most townships spend very little and tax residents even less, despite having sometimes huge property valuation bases they could tax.

If township budgets are adopted as proposed, the highest tax bill for the owner of a home with the county’s median home valuation will be in Peabody Township.

Properties used for commercial or agricultural purposes are assessed at different rates, but the relative difference remains proportionately the same.

School districts are among the most costly units of government:

They are by no means the only taxing entities, however. In addition to the county itself, which has yet to release its proposed budget, an array of special districts also tax county residents, depending on where they live.

Taxpayers tend to watch proposed mill rates. Partly because of a property tax lid and partly because mill rates are so closely watched, these rates rarely increase much.

This doesn’t mean spending won’t increase, however. Depending on the type of governmental unit, multiple other sources of revenue exist, including sales taxes, utility fees, borrowing, and grants.

Overall authorized spending by governmental units in 2021 is set to soar over actual spending in 2019.

Last modified July 30, 2020

 

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