Friday, May 27, 2011

County will be responsible with taxes


A county commissioner's fiduciary responsibilities are among the most important. So, too, is the obligation to keep the public informed and educated about county government. I would like to clarify that a quote from me at the beginning of a front-page story on county taxes and levies published in the May 25 issue and the meaning ascribed to it are incomplete. Based upon lower property values countywide, maintaining a constant budget—for any taxing district in Blaine County—would require a levy rate increase. However, only those districts that have formulated their fiscal 2012 budgets would have a clear idea on the direction of their levy rate. I have formed no opinion on and the Board of County Commissioners has yet to discuss a fiscal 2012 budget. We have just begun to hear outside agency and departmental requests for funding, but no decisions are being made at this time.

In understanding property taxes in county government, this simple formula may be useful: Property taxes equal the sum of the assessed real and personal property values in each taxing district multiplied by the levy rate for that district. There are numerous taxing districts and tax-supported measures in our county. For Blaine County specifically, property taxes in the current fiscal year constitute about 40 percent of the complete revenue budget, including the Ambulance District, two special levies and the jail bond. The remainder is made up from fees, grants, state revenue sharing, federal support payments, reserves and any other sources. These are matched to the county's expense budget.

The share of your total property tax bill going to Blaine County, including voter-approved measures such as the Blaine Manor Levy, are in most cases in the 12-16 percent range, depending on where you live. After June 20, the Land, Water and Wildlife Levy goes away, so your property tax will decline on that account. There is one more year on the Blaine Manor Levy. Based upon Blaine County's relatively high total property valuation, we are likely to continue to maintain the lowest or second lowest levy rates in the state.

The county has frozen employee wages two years in a row (with some special exceptions made for this fiscal year.) An allowable 3 percent property tax increase was not taken for the current fiscal year. While county reserves had been anticipated to decline going into 2010, interim management reversed that trend. The notion of surplus and deficit is somewhat misleading. For example, to avoid an impact to taxpayers, the county zeroed out its capital accounts two years ago and these have not been replenished.

I believe we intend to be careful and prudent stewards of all the county's assets, which belong to you.

Editor's note: The Express stands by the story.

Larry Schoen is a member of the Blaine County Board of Commissioners.

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