Our opinion: Previous decisions lead to results

Published 6:30 am Saturday, September 26, 2020

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The news coming out of Tuesday’s County Board of Commissioners meeting is an optimistic stride toward the end of the year when so many other things feel like a constant drag on our collective souls.

Some of this news also shows what prudent and responsible fiscal decisions can get you down the line.

Not only did the board give the nod to distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars in CARES Act funding to nonprofits and schools, it also leveled a preliminary operating levy for 2021 at just 0.5 percent higher than 2020’s. That puts the preliminary levy at $22,691,613.

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The news that Mower may only see a slight increase in its operating levy is bolstering considering the upheaval many are experiencing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues ramping up the state and threatens with more economic hardship down the road.

“It’s kind of a miraculous thing given that over 40 percent of the revenue comes from the state,” said County Administrator Trish Harren on Wednesday.

Forty-three percent of the operating levy is dependent on local tax dollars while 45 percent comes from state and federal dollars. Knowing that Mower was reliant on those dollars called a lot into question when the state’s $1.5 billion budget surplus was wiped away early in the pandemic in May and replaced by a $2.4 billion deficit.

Counties immediately started building contingency plans and Mower was no different. As people stopped traveling and spending, the county saw those tax-generated revenues decline.

“Transportation funding comes from gas tax and people weren’t driving as much so that’s down,” Harren said. “(Revenue) also comes from sales tax and sales tax is down. We had to work really hard to reduce expenditures and then find some creative ways to supplant revenues.”

That’s where the past decisions turned out beneficial for commissioners this year. The replenishment of $500,000 in cash reserves stemming from the payout of a bond used in building the Jail and Justice Center puts the county half a million dollars ahead going into next year, while $1 million that was earmarked for road construction projects next year in turn dropped the levy by four percent.

These positive conditions even has some in the county hoping that the .5 percent can be lowered even further. Should that happen, it’s only going to put the county on stronger footing.

That being said, this is only a preliminary reading of the levy with the finalization coming later this year and as COVID-19 has so efficiently showed us, things can change quickly, but if the county continues making the decisions that have gotten them this far, then the bonus of such a mild increase for taxpayers gets passed along.

It’s not going to solve all of our problems, but this news certainly has us feeling better about moving forward.