County Tax Levy On Decline For 2nd Straight Year

The Mills County Board of Supervisors has approved the county’s $18.5 million budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

Next year’s county budget is up slightly from the 2015-2016 fiscal year, which ends June 30, but does reflect a second straight year of decline in the tax levy, from the current rate of 9.633319 (per taxable $1,000 valuation) to the proposed 9.40932 in rural areas of the county. Residents living in incorporated areas within the county would see their tax rate dip from 6.41855 to 6.19468.

The county’s tax asking is also going down slightly from $7,807,868 in 2015-16 to $7,778,909 for 2016-2017.

“We tried to leave it as close to what we had last year and not raise more than we had to and we made some cuts and some concessions so we like what we’ve come up with,” Mills County Auditor Carol Robertson said of the proposed budget.

Robertson added, the budget overall, paints a decent picture of the county’s finances during tough economic times for county budgets throughout the state.

“It’s good and we’re doing well,” Robertson said. “We’re holding things down and handling the increase in costs, in insurance and negotiating with the unions and salaries. Insurance goes up every year and it’s a good policy so we like that but it’s a big expense and that’s challenging every year.”

As part of the budget, non-union county employees will receive a 2-percent salary raise while the county’s union employees will see a $2.5 percent hike.

The county’s largest line item expenses continue to be roads and transportation ($5.8 million), public safety and legal services ($3.5 million), physical health and social services ($1.7 million), county administration ($1.6 million) and county environment and education ($1.3 million).

Robertson calls the roads budget “the cost of doing business” in maintaining the county’s aging infrastructure.
“The roads are just horrible,” Robertson said. “And we have some other projects, some resurfacing and bridge work that needs to be done this upcoming year.”

The public safety and legal services amount is up about 10 percent. That increase included a sheriff’s office request for an additional $300,000 for the purchase of three new vehicles and new equipment. That request was trimmed to just over $100,000 after the county’s decision to split the purchases of the vehicles between this year and next.

The county environment and education budget shows a 30-percent jump from the previous year. The $1.3 million figure includes at least part of the construction of the new conservation building at Pony Creek Park. The center is expected to be completed this April.

Country administration costs are also up. Robertson attributes the increase to the November election costs, some finishing work on the courthouse, including a new parking lot and driveway, and the on-going expense of increased insurance costs for county employees.

The county’s mental health line item saw the largest cut to just over $400,000. Robertson said that reduction is related to the state’s mandate to regionalize mental health services.

With its cost-cutting, the county has paid more than $400,000 in debt service payments toward the $6.4 million bond to construct the county law enforcement center and jail.

“We had said the people (taxes) would pay, the debt service levy that is, for the jail, but since we had that money, we didn’t have to do that,” Robertson said.

The Opinion-Tribune

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