March 12, 2013

Carroll County Supervisors Monday morning unanimously passed a budget that will slash the county property-tax rate for the third consecutive year. What's more, total value of property in the county continued to climb well over $1 billion, distinguishing Carroll from other counties in the region.

"We need to enjoy it while we can," said Supervisor Gene Meiners.

Tax rates will drop 17 and 5 percent for city and rural residents, respectively, to $3.77 and $7.11 per $1,000 of taxable value for next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Under the plan, a city resident who owns a $125,000 house will pay $38 less for county property taxes next year compared with this year - a drop from $287 to $249. Someone who owns a 40-acre tract of land would pay $1 less, a decrease from $246 to $245.

Commercial-property owners will see significant savings since such facilities are taxed at 100 percent of value, with no benefit of the state-mandated rollback that assists ag land and residential. A commercial property in Carroll County will see a 16.7 percent cut in the county portion of its tax bill - from $4,531 to $3,775, a $756 reduction.

"It's happening because the Board of Supervisors lowered the tax rate significantly and commercial-property owners never really seem to get a break," said Carroll County Auditor Joan Schettler.

Schettler noted that commercial-property-tax reform is one of Gov. Terry Branstad's priorities. But the fate of any legislative reform is in doubt.

"At least at the county level, commercial property owners will see a significant decrease in their taxes," Schettler said.

The three largest areas of spending for the county continue to be secondary roads, $5.2 million; law enforcement and emergency services, $1.5 million; and mental-health services, $1.3 million.

Total cuts to the tax rates since 2011 are 37 and 23 percent for city and rural residents. Residents also pay property taxes to cities and school districts.

The county's total taxable property valuation jumped 10 percent in the past year to about $1.2 billion. The valuations have been buoyed by the county's two wind farms - the clusters of turbines northwest of Carroll that generate electricity from wind.

"Our valuations increase this year was far better than what we expected," said Mark Beardmore, the supervisors' chairman.

The board had hoped to cut $2.4 million in the past year from its reserves - which totaled $9.7 million in June 2012 - but the actual reduction is estimated to be about half of that by June 2013 because of the uptick in property value.

The new budget will be the third straight in which county leaders plan to spend more than what they receive in taxes and other revenues. It includes deficit spending of about $1.5 million. The total budget is about $17.6 million, and the county will have enough cash on-hand to pay about half that amount, which supervisors have said is excessive.

Beardmore said the county's health-insurance costs have risen 29 percent in the past year.

"Think how good this would have looked if we had not been faced with the insurance increase," Beardmore said.