County’s tax asking down in 2009-10 budget

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By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

In these times of economic recession and budget belt-tightening, Mills County is lowering its tax asking for next year, according to the county's 2009-2010 budget.

The county's tax asking is down slightly from last year's $5,652,813 to $5,486,731 this year, meaning Mills County's $12,461,544 budget is about $400,000 less than last year.

Not bad considering the current state of the economy and the fact the county didn't have to eliminate any programs, said Joe Blankenship, president of the Mills County Board of Supervisors.

“We have a great auditor that keeps us on our toes, watches our money and our elected officials have been pretty good about holding their budgets down where they can. All in all, things are going good in Mills County, a lot better than some other areas,” said Blankenship.

Roads and transportation remains the county’s largest expenditure at $4,639, 992, which is up about 9 percent over last year. Seeing the largest net increases in the budget is county administration (up over 33 percent to $1,471,757) and public safety and legal services (up over 10 percent to $2,417,392).

Slight increases were also seen in the county’s public health and mental health and governmental services line items.

The county will also pay out more than $28,000 to the Loess Hills Humane Society from its rural services levy for animal control.

The county’s capital projects in secondary roads (down 37 percent to $385,000) and environmental services and education programs (down nearly 33 percent to $829,187) took the hardest hits in cost cutting measures.

While capital expenditures are down, said Carol Robertson, the budget is putting aside $250,000 for Americans With Disabilities compliance projects at the courthouse. The county plans to add an elevator and update the facility’s restrooms over a three-year period at a cost of more than $500,000. But a planned remodeling of the current treasurers office will have to be put off, at least for the time being, said Robertson.

“But a lot of that isn’t necessarily because of the money, it’s because we put it on hold until we figure out where the jail project is going to go,” she said.

The county, which was shot down in 2007 when it sought a $6.9 million bond issue for a new jail and public safety center south of Glenwood to replace the county’s current 1915-era jail, plans to return to voters as early as next spring with a new jail proposal. That $5.6 million, 24-bed jail proposal, Blankenship said, is still in the planning phase but could consist of an addition to the current courthouse or sheriff's office or a smaller version of the project originally planned in 2007.

Blankenship called the jail project the county’s No. 1 priority this fiscal year.

“We don't have a lot of room for expansion here. As far as this building’s concerned, we've got no place to go. As far as the jail project, there’s a couple more meetings before we come up with a final plan but we have to make a move there,” he said.

The county's current levy of taxable property valuation on residential property is also down this budget round to 9.61473 per $1,000 – from last year's 10.63487 – and valuations in the county overall increased by about $50 million, said Robertson.

“That was good for us, it's helped a lot,” she said.

The tax revenue news wasn't all good, however, Robertson said. The Plattsmouth Bridge became privately owned this year and the Corps of Engineers took “the bottoms” along the western edge of the county along the Missouri River, costing the county more than $50,000 in tax revenues.

Despite that loss in revenue and the county's general “cut what you can” budgeting, Blankenship is encouraged by the state of the county's budget and its overall economy.

“We don't have the housing or the industry problems you have in other areas. Houses are still selling an being built here,” she said. “We've been fortunate here and I hope that continues.”