Another property tax on fall ballot?

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer August 09, 2013 11:48 pm

County commissioners are considering what they hope is the last property tax proposal to be put before voters in November.

Commissioners voted Wednesday 2-1 to have the county attorney draft an order and ballot title to ask voters for a property tax increase of $1.35 per $1,000 assessed valuation. The board will discuss and likely approval the ballot title at its next meeting Aug. 14; it has until 5 p.m. Aug. 16 to file paperwork for a November election.

“This is the one I think will most likely be supported by voters in our community,” said Commissioner David Itzen. “It meets most, if not all of the requests the Brookings mayor presented to us: there’s no split rate, it’s of limited duration. I move to place it on the November ballot.”

Most recently, commissioners Susan Brown and David Brock Smith have been bandying about two figures: she $1.15 per $1,000 assessed valuation that would keep county services at “status quo,” and he $1.30 per $1,000, which gives the county more flexibility for unexpected expenses.

Brown, however, voted against Smith’s rate, saying it is still too high and that Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog and some of his council have said anything over a dollar will probably not get voter approval.

“I’m not prepared to do this,” she said. “I am not quite comfortable with it.”

She has voted against every tax proposal the other commissioners have proposed, saying they do not cut deep enough or fund more services than citizens are willing to pay.

The $1.35 per $1,000 tax rate proposal will be the second commissioners have put forth this year in an attempt to get tax-averse voters to fund county services. A five-year split rate proposal — $1.97 per $1,000 valuation for those in unincorporated Curry County and $1.84 per $1,000 for city residents — failed in a May election.

This tax rate, when combined with the existing 59-cent property tax, is estimated to bring $3.187 million to county coffers, Smith said.

“That is what is needed to keep what I see as inadequate levels of service,” Smith said.

Brown declined the offer of more time to consider the new proposal.

“I’ve presented my proposal,” she said. “There’s no additional research to be done.”

Commissioners have met numerous times with County Finance Director Gary Short since May 21 to make even more cuts to a $2.1 million general fund budget that has been decimated by the elimination of federal timber subsidies.

Smith said the higher rate is needed because anything less doesn’t take into account the cost of annual communications tower maintenance, vehicle replacement and needed building repairs, particularly to the jail.

“I don’t understand why putting more than what’s necessary is needed while we work toward other options,” Brown said. “I’m having a hard time with $1.35. It’s more than what we need for status quo.”

The board has also considered occupancy and restaurant taxes, economic development projects and business licenses among the ideas to partially fund county services.

“‘More than what is necessary’ — that’s where the rub is. That’s where we disagree,” Itzen said. “You think this is more than necessary, but I believe, adamantly, that it is probably not enough.”

Brown, who pushed hard for deep cuts to the budget, said she thinks the county can stretch its dollars still more.

“I agree with what Carla said,” she said of an earlier presentation when Sunset Family Pizza owner Carla Van Prooyen said she’s had to tighten her finances during the recession. “We need to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. She didn’t put us in this mess. The public didn’t put us in this mess. But that’s who we’re going to to get us out of this mess.”

Smith said the $1.35 per $1,000 proposal still only asks for half of the $130,000 it will cost to maintain communications towers. Nor does it address the $100,000 needed to replace a defunct ventilation system and install a required fire suppression system in the jail.