Community Salute: Innovative solutions keep county tax levy down

Published 8:00 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

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On Tuesday morning of this week, the Mower County Board of Commissioners approved a scenario for its preliminary tax levy that if carried forward would bring the projected increase down to 5.5%.

It’s a drop of 1.5% from an earlier targeted increase of 7% and worlds away from an initial increase of 15%.

Still, the 5.5% is notably higher than years past when the county was able to keep increases to a minimum, but it also had help from a variety of places including the added American Rescue Plan Act dollars the county received because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Realism, however, was always going to be a factor and this year a hike in health insurance premiums helped contribute to the higher than previous year’s rise.

The underlying message though, is that the county as a whole used some creative thinking to lower that number, even if some of it isn’t the way to approach the issue in an ideal world.

As part of this plan, commissioners agreed to defer $600,000 marked for VEBA funding to next year. It’s important to understand that the $600,000 has always been there, but it wasn’t budgeted and would just get absorbed within the annual budget

The county has since opted to start accounting for that money separately so that the money can be seen coming in and going out. By pushing that plan off one more year the county took the step in dropping that levy increase.

A formula error also allowed for further decrease and the county is still getting help from wind tax revenue along with getting over $850,000 in extra aid from various areas.

Keep in mind that this remains a preliminary number and while it’s unlikely that the percentage will go down any more, it is possible to go back up again, but commissioners feel confident that 5.5% is doable.

It’s commendable that a government entity is doing what it can at all levels to try to keep increased tax burdens off the shoulders of taxpayers as much as possible while at the same time continuing to work alongside both the City Council and Austin Public Schools, which are experiencing their own challenges.

Tax levy increases are a reality, and to keep those hikes down will always come with difficult decisions, but this is an indication of how much creativity can enter into the equation as well.