Friday, September 17, 2004

County commission eyes levy increase

Added revenues would be put in ?savings account?

Express Staff Writer

Two of Blaine County?s commissioners disagreed this week over whether to approve a proposed mil levy increase that would contribute funds to a county ?savings account.? A vote on the issue was postponed until a commission meeting Monday, Sept. 27 when the third commissioner, Mary Ann Mix, is scheduled to attend.

Property taxes represent between 35 and 40 percent of the county budget. If commissioners approve the levy, the increase would allow the county to collect an additional $164,000 from property taxes.

Commissioner Sarah Michael said the money would help the county in its efforts to save for a new county jail. Commissioner Dennis Wright, who said he supports the jail campaign, agreed the sum is small. However, he said he was opposed to raising taxes in principle.

?This is putting more money into the coffers of the county,? Wright said. ?It?s a small, insignificant amount. I am opposed. It?s principle, period.?

Tax bills are scheduled to be mailed the first week of November. Most homeowners will pay more property tax, despite the fact the levy will be lower than last year.

County clerk Marsha Reiman explained that as the market value for homes continues to increase, the levy rate goes down. The county may only increase the portion of the county budget gleaned from property taxes by 3 percent per year, which is what the proposed levy increase would do.

The net taxable property value for Blaine County currently is just over $8 billion. Property values have increased some 15 percent countywide over last year. The county budget, as approved earlier this month, is $20 million.

Reiman said that if the levy is approved at the new rate, property taxes for her Woodside home would be $1,320 this year. Last year she paid $900, but her home was worth less.

?In all fairness I think my house has been undervalued for some time,? she said.

In August, Idaho State Tax Commission officials intervened in Blaine County?s property assessments, which are determined each summer. County officials took matters into their own hands, rather than turn discretion over to the state, and raised property values in the county?s cities between 10 and 140 percent, on top of valuation increases posted in June.

Confusing the issue, the county is preparing for an advisory vote on Nov. 2 to ask voters if it should use money it has saved, and will continue to save, to build a new $8 million to $9.5 million county jail, sheriff?s office and dispatch center.

Critics have pointed out that, though the method proposed would not increase taxes through an additional levy or bond, it essentially siphons money that might otherwise stay with taxpayers.

The county?s reserve fund has fluctuated, but was as high as $8 million before county officials used the fund to pay cash for a new $3.4 million Courthouse Annex, completed this summer.

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