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Taxes go up despite plea

Staff writer

The economic development directors of two historically rival towns joined forces Monday to lobby county commissioners about budget issues that threaten new development.

Randy Collett, Marion economic development director, and Anthony Roy, executive director of Hillsboro Development Corporation, questioned raising taxes while holding large cash balances.

“The tax rates that we have now, that’s the thing that Anthony and I hear most often from potential business clients is, ‘What is with that tax rate?’” Collett said. “And likewise, without the new businesses being here, we’re not getting residents either.”

Collett said he and Roy are good salesmen, but the tax rates make their jobs difficult.

“We’re trying to be as competitive as we can possibly be,” Collett said. “We believe we can help you out by attracting businesses and residents to this county. But we’re making it terribly difficult.”

Collett said the tax rates are isolating the county.

“We’re building a wall around us based on the tax load,” he said.

Collett and Roy asked in their presentation why commissioners would raise taxes while holding large cash reserves.

“Why are we considering another ad valorem tax increase when we have the kind of reserves that we have?” Collett asked commissioners.

Over the last eight years, unencumbered cash reserves have nearly doubled, from under $8 million in 2009 to just under $16 million in 2017, according to Collett and Roy.

“A typical cash reserve level is usually somewhere between three and six months,” Collett said. “The budget gives Marion County about a 52- to 53-week period.”

He compared the reserves to Nemaha County, which has a similar population and property valuation, to Marion County.

Marion has $4.38 million in funds supported by tax levy while Nemaha has $500,000. Marion has another $5.1 million in capital improvement not supported by tax levy while Nemaha has $1 million.

The county has another $1.9 million in bond and interest from the jail sales tax, $250,000 in risk management reserve, $350,000 for special equipment, and $800,000 for the transfer station.

Dallke, Becker, and county clerk Tina Spencer explained reasons for some of the specific reserve funds, including those for the transfer station and jail.

The only comment addressed toward the totality of the reserves came from Dallke.

“I think everybody likes to have some money in the bank, don’t like to go out and borrow,” Dallke said.

The only tax issue they addressed was letting a half-cent sales tax for the jail sunset.

The economic development directors suggested lower taxes comparable to the county’s competition, lower cash reserves, a county administrator, and a strategic plan with public input.

“Most important for us as we try to jump into the competitive world of attracting businesses and jobs here is our ad valorem tax needs to be in line with our competition,” Collett said.

The presentation’s mill levy comparison blamed the EMS budget and employee benefits for the tax increase.

It compared Marion County to Nemaha and Allen, which are similar, and to McPherson and Harvey, which are competitors.

Marion has the highest total levy of the five counties. It also spends the most on EMS service overall and per person.

Marion’s fiscal year 2017 EMS budget was $933,318. Nemaha’s was $750,000, Allen’s was $499,000, Harvey’s was $718,000, and McPherson does not have a county-run EMS service.

The 2018 budget approved Monday increases EMS funding by 42 percent, up to $1.3 million.

Per capita, Marion spent $77, compared to Nemaha’s $73, Allen’s $39, and Harvey’s $21. Now, Marion taxpayers will spend $109 per person for ambulance service.

Commissioners did not comment on EMS data presented.

Collett’s and Roy’s voices went largely unheeded as the presentation made no impact on the budget debate. Commissioners approved the fiscal year 2018 budget in a 2-1 vote, with Randy Dallke and Kent Becker for and Dianne Novak opposed.

County taxes will increase by 1.5 mills, or about $192,704, instead of drawing on the nearly $16 million of cash reserves as suggested by Collett and Roy.

Last modified Aug. 30, 2017

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