The tax burden, like last year, will continue to shift toward farms. An improving local economy means rapid growth in new construction, which will continue to expand the tax base. And supervisors across county departments say they need more workers to handle a growing population.
But there are a couple of major changes from a year ago that are likely to impact county residents. Unlike a year ago, County Administrator
"We can't take care of 75,000 people the way we took care of 55,000 people," said Commissioner
Meyer's initial budget proposal includes a 4 percent increase in the property tax levy. In 2013, the administration was under the impression that legislation boosting state aid to the county required that the levy be frozen. With that budget constraint in mind, the board added few new positions and used reserve funds for some one-time expenses.
This week, Meyer showed the board 19 positions that he considered warranted by growing case loads and demands for services. And he presented the proposed 3.99 percent levy increase, which would generate just less than
About a third of the increase would be offset by the new construction that is adding to the county's tax base. More than
"That's certainly reflected in what we're seeing in the community," Meyer said.
Although construction is up substantially from the depths of the Great Recession, it's still well below the levels seen during the housing boom that preceded the recession. In three consecutive years starting in 2005, for instance, new construction in
Farm shift continues
With new construction covering a third of the proposed levy hike, existing property owners would be left to finance about
For the past several years, surging farmland values have driven up the share of county taxes that farm owners pay. While farm sales have shown that the inflation in ag land values is slowing, there's a lag between the sales and the assessments that determine tax burden for individual farms.
Ag land assessments will rise about 15 percent again for taxes payable in 2015, Meyer said.
"We're still going to see a shift in the burden on to the ag classification," he said.
Commissioners got one round of solid ammunition to use if people complain about rising county taxes. The county ranks 72nd in per capita county property taxes in
"Only 15 of 87 counties would have a lower per capita levy," Meyer said. "... So we have operated in a conservative manner."
A rising county payroll
Even the most conservative members of the board were showing no signs this week of insisting on a flat levy for 2015, nor were any arguing that the county should have a hiring freeze in the coming budget.
In fact, when Meyer asked how many of the 19 proposed new employees he should include in his next round of budget documents, the board ultimately instructed him to include them all with the intent to consider reductions in the number as the fiscal discussions proceed through the summer and fall.
The overall cost to property tax payers of the new positions could be a wash in the short term, Meyer said, because of grants from the state and federal government for some and because department heads have agreed to drop or delay other planned spending in return for the added workers -- who would receive a combined
"I always worry if you're getting money from somewhere else, how long will that last?" Piepho said.
As for the delayed purchases of equipment and other items to offset the employee costs, Commissioner
"As long as you're willing to do that every budget year ...," Campbell said of the reduced departmental spending.
19 proposed positions
Campbell suggested half of the 19 positions should be included in the next round of budget discussions. Piepho was willing to accept the top 12 in the priority list created by Meyer.
Those 12 include a deputy sheriff (who would focus on water, snowmobile and ATV patrol and serve as a school safety officer in the
There are also six new positions in the
"We would struggle to provide quality services (without the top 12 additional positions)," Meyer said.
He also noted that the county was all but forced to previously add five Human Services workers because of decisions made in
The county now has the equivalent of 414.5 employees, down from a pre-recession peak of 426.
"I'm not excited about 19 positions either," Bruender said. "But we have to provide the services."
Campbell cautioned that the county is in the midst of a legal battle with its assistant county attorneys over salary levels and could be forced to boost those salary levels if the board, which lost at the District Court level, suffers the same fate before the
"We still have a pending lawsuit with possibly much higher expenditures ... plus some back pay," Campbell said.
"As we move forward, we may find some we can eliminate," Purvis said.
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