Commissioners Brown, Smith at odds over property tax rate

Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer July 27, 2013 12:57 am

County commissioners Susan Brown and David Brock Smith are 15 cents apart on a property tax rate each believes could alleviate Curry County’s financial woes.

Brown is proposing the commissioners put on the November ballot a question asking for a $1.15 per $1,000 assessed valuation, while Smith said $1.30 per $1,000 would give the board a little more “wiggle room” if something unexpected occurs.

And Mayor Ron Hedenskog, who spoke at the board’s work session Tuesday, said the city of Brookings is standing firm on its idea of 92 cents per $1,000.

“I’d like to fund a lot of things,” Hedenskog said. “I’d like to fund a hospital. I’d like to fund improvements to the airport. I’d like to fund the problems we have with the golf course that was given to us. People are asking for an aquatic center — I’d like to fund an aquatic center.

“But that’s not realistic. And the city is not ready to fund any more of Curry County’s general fund.”

Options

When Smith joined the board in January, he soon realized the dire straits in which the county has found itself. Decreased federal timber subsidies have dwindled to nothing over the years, and past county commissioners who even mentioned the “T” word — taxes— were quickly voted out of office.

Smith devised a split-rate levy that would have raised property taxes $1.97 per $1,000 for those living in unincorporated Curry County and $1.84 for those living in its cities. It failed at the polls 56 to 44 percent.

The city of Brookings came up with an idea to ask for $1.93 per $1,000 for those in outlying areas and 93 cents per $1,000 for those in cities.

Monday, the city drafted a letter to the commissioners urging them to pursue a 92 cents per $1,000 levy.

Smith is now touting $1.30 per $1,000.

And Tuesday, Brown outlined a proposal that would ask voters for $1.15 per $1,000. That money would go into the general fund and pay for “core services”: the jail, district attorney, Sheriff’s Department and juvenile services.

Money garnered through the county’s existing 59 cent per $1,000 tax rate that currently goes into the general fund and pays for core services and the sheriff’s patrol deputies, could then be used solely to pay patrol.

Other parts of her proposal address communications and 911, transient occupancy taxes and possible patrol number increases in the future.

Their 15-cent difference, however, centers around individual budget items, and not the methodology Brown proposes.

Smith pointed out a few perceived flaws, including the lack of a way to pay back the road fund the $950,000 the county borrowed to balance this year’s $2.1 million general fund budget, state-level changes needed to divert  transient occupancy tax revenue to the county, and the fact that the county will have only $1 million in its coffers next July.

Both plan to meet with County Finance Director Gary Short to see where discrepancies might be between their respective tax rate figures.

All for one

Commissioner Itzen, however, was looking for unity on the board, as it faces an Aug. 7  deadline to get paperwork filed to get anything on the November ballot.

“Commissioner Brown — you have not been willing to aggressively support anything, yet it seems you could aggressively support $1.15,” he said. “Is that correct?”

Brown said she was not going to tell citizens how to vote, nor stump in public for a tax increase.

“We do need funding,” she said. “My idea of support is to give citizens the facts, give them the numbers, talk to them about what I know. Then it’s the voter’s responsibility.”

He asked if she would recommend to a voter support of a measure.

“If the numbers are realistic, I’ll bring it to the citizens honestly,” Brown said. “This is what we need, this is where our numbers are, this is our long-term plan.”