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home : news : news Saturday, April 30, 2016

3/12/2014 Email this articlePrint this article 
Rural landowners to pay more in new fiscal year

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

Clinton County's urban tax rate will fall 3.7 cents in fiscal year 2015 while the rural tax levy will increase 22 cents under a budget approved March 10 by the Clinton County Board of Supervisors.

The budget sets a tax rate of $7.60 per $1,000 valuation for urban areas and $10.60 per $1,000 for rural areas that will generate an estimated $17.3 million in property taxes.

Total county revenue is estimated at $30 million, and expenses are estimated at $32.1 million. To cover the difference, the county will rely on its existing fund balance, which will fall from a projected $7.9 million to $5.8 million.

The only member of the public to speak during a public hearing on the budget proposal was Keith Dexter of Lost Nation, who asked about the deteriorating fund balance, noting the county had nearly $10 million in reserve at the end of fiscal year 2013.

"My concern would be three years down the road, at the rate it's going it would apparently be swallowed up. What's the long-term plan?" Dexter said.

Supervisor Jill Davisson said the budget uses conservative estimates of revenue and expense, so the funding gap likely will be smaller than projected.

"Most of the time we spend less than we anticipate and we take in more than we anticipate, so that gap usually narrows," Davisson said.

Supervisor Brian Schmidt echoed her comments and said most departments spend about 10 percent less than they budget. Schmidt said he understands Dexter's concern, but it's not the case the county is going to use up its reserve fund.

About $500,000 in costs will be eliminated in the next budget cycle once the former Candlelight building renovation and other high-cost maintenance projects are complete, Schmidt noted.

County attorney Mike Wolf thanked the board for allowing him to budget contingency funds to cover unanticipated costs associated with a transition to paperless court filing and to pay for expert testimony.

The state criminologist will testify in criminal trials at no charge in applicable cases, but the county must pay for expert testimony in other cases, such as a child endangerment charge that requires professional analysis of hair stat testing.

"We don't want to lose a trial because we can't afford to have a special person come in and testify," Wolf said.

The supervisors thanked department heads and elected officials for their work on the budget.

"We didn't give them all they needed, so we had to make some tough choices," supervisor John Staszewski said.

It's important the state legislature keep its commitment to backfill lost revenue from the commercial property tax reform approved last year, Staszewski noted.

Davisson said the sheriff asked for funding to replace five squad cars but will only receive enough for four, and the county engineer had to eliminate major road maintenance work due to budget constraints.

"We did allow him to do $200,000 in projects, but we took out $700,000," Davisson said.

Board members said the county continues to feel a financial pinch from the legislature's unwillingness to raise the road-use tax.

"There is an increase in the rural levy and that's quite honestly due to the fact we are not receiving the dollars for roads we used to in the past," Davisson stated.

"We are at a loss here handling and addressing the needs of our roads because the only tool we have is to shift it to property taxpayers, and it's getting to be a burden," Schmidt said.

Owners of agricultural land need to be aware the increase in the rural levy will impact their taxes, especially coming at the same time assessed values have increased and the property tax rollback has decreased.

Schmidt said the taxable value of 38 acres of bare ground he owns has increased from $50,584 to $56,000. With the increase in the rural levy, taxes on those 38 acres land will increase $69, and that doesn't include any potential increase in school tax rates, Schmidt said.

"My point is, I'm urging the ag land taxpayers to be aware your bill will be higher this fall," he said.

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