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Commission OKs budget, tax rate and levy

Prior to a vote on the 2014-15 budget, Property Assessor Scott Buckingham clarified the definition and state law requirements surrounding the certified tax rate.
A reappraisal of real property values is conducted every five years, Buckingham told county commissioners during a called meeting on Sept. 29
“It’s all based on values. If the values go up, the tax rate goes down,” he said. “The thing is, you can’t bring in less money than the year before.”
Buckingham walked commissioners through a “How Can I Figure My Tax Bill” worksheet and explained three examples in detail. He also provided a history of the tax rate for Washington County, pointing out the certified tax rate in 2008 was $2.45.
Since then, the rate has remained at $1.9139. The 2014-15 budget includes an adjustment that raises the base rate to $1.9798 to make up for the overall 3 percent decrease in the 2014 reappraised, which saw a decline in some residential property, and both increases and decreases in commercial property.
“There have been a lot of questions about semantics,” Commissioner Mitch Meredith said. “In your opinion, are we implementing a tax increase?”
Buckingham answered no, and reminded commissioners the county is mandated by the state to bring in the same amount as the year before.
Commissioner Robbie Tester confirmed it was up to the county commission to approve the adjustment.
“Yes, but if you don’t, you’re going to be short on the budget and you will be for the next five years,” Buckingham noted.
Tester asked if there is another option, such as using fund balance, but Eldridge said the commission needs to be careful of a short-term outlook.
“If we don’t adjust the rate to compensate for the difference and use fund balance (instead), that will be taking dollars away that were going to the economy to stimulate growth,” he said.
Tester asked if it is government’s job to do projects to stimulate the economy or if it would be better to leave the money in the hands of the taxpayers.
“Nothing will get the attention of the bond rating agencies more than using fund balance to pay for recurring expenses,” warned Commissioner David Tomita.
Commissioner Joe Wise agreed, adding that practice is one that cannot be maintained. “If we spend down the fund balance to the minimum $12 million and still have flat revenue, we will have to raise taxes,” he said. “That’s from someone who doesn’t see this adjustment as a tax increase.”
Commissioner Mark Larkey made a motion to approve the certified tax rate of $1.9798 for each $100 of taxable property in Washington County. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Joe Grandy and passed in a roll call vote with Commissioners Sam Humpreys, Forrest Boreing and Tester opposed. Commissioner Danny Edens was absent.
A motion to approve the budget for fiscal year 2015 was made by Commissioner Tom Foster and seconded by Grandy. The motion passed with Tester opposed and Edens absent.
The motion to approve the tax levy for fiscal 2015 was made by Larkey and seconded by Tomita. The motion passed with Tester and Boreing opposed and Edens absent.