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A tax update
Looking at county and city tax meetings coming up
Tax seasons have gotten very interesting lately.
This year the county’s budget process is not as likely to be as chaotic as last year’s, since the county took some steps to change how it handles amendments. Last year saw 19 budget amendments on the table for the final meeting. This year many were discussed earlier in the process, and that seemed to have led to fewer amendments.
And in the city, Finance Committee members have been whittling away at the tax rate, taking some creative steps to lower it. (Though as some readers have pointed out, those water bills are sky high lately.)
Here are some updates from the city and county as they near the finish line of approving next year’s budgets.
City taxes won’t go up as much as expected
In the last budget session of the city’s Finance Committee, everyone did a little trimming and some additional ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding to reduce the tax rate increase to only 28 cents - then held off on a streets worker for a year to knock that down another 2 cents.
The final result the council will look a is a 26 cent increase in the mill rate, meaning the owner of a $200,000 home would pay another $52 on the city portion of their tax bill.
That’s much lower than the $0.41 increase the city was initially looking at.
Another thing that helped, said city Finance Director Maryanne Groat, is that equalized value assessments came in a little higher than projected.
The city tonight will hold a public hearing on the budget (update: no one spoke during the public hearing).
Correction: The original post said the council would be voting on the budget but it only held a public hearing.
County budget amendments
Marathon County started out with a $3.99 per $1,000 tax rate, which is quite a drop from last year’s rate of $4.19 per $1,000. But that could lower even more this week.
There will be at least three amendments proposed to the 2024 budget at Thursday’s meeting, in which the county board is expected to adopt next year’s budget. Here they are:
Social Improvement Fund: Supervisor David Baker is proposing to cut $1.5 million from the social improvement fund, transferring that instead to NCHC’s debt service fund. The social improvement fund helps fund Social Services, which has costs that vary wildly. The fund helps manage those costs, but there is more than $6 million in the fund as it stands.
Building sale: An amendment by Supervisor Gayle Marshall would put $4.3 million that would complete the NCHC facilities consolidation contingent on the county listing for sale any vacated buildings, and selling them to whoever makes the highest offer.
Library: This is the contentious one, with numerous people speaking out against it at the county board’s education meeting Thursday. Proposed by Baker, it replaces a 12% increase to the Marathon County Library Board’s budget with a 6.7% increase. According to Baker, this still fully funds the library based on their 2023 expenditures. But Library Director Leah Giordano told the committee that Baker’s assessment wasn’t accurate. First off, the ask included what was cut last year. So, she argues, it’s really a 3% increase. And basing budget recommendations on a partial budget doesn’t tell the whole story for two reasons: A) that larger ticket items come due later in the year, so early year-to-date expenditures don’t reflect that; B) and a number of vacancies mean they spent less than budgeted.
Others speaking up last Thursday accused conservative members of the board of punishing the library over how the library board handled challenges to controversial books.
Baker’s amendment would save $165,000 off the tax levy.
Not taken: Baker had also considered an amendment that would hold off on a boiler replacement for the library to see if the city would pay half. (He cited the fact that the city once ran the library before it was consolidated into the county system.) Baker said he was holding off on that since he didn’t think there was much likelihood of success.
Last year’s county board meeting to approve the budget was an exceedingly long one. This year’s will likely be much shorter. With so many amendments last year, Finance Director Kristi Palmer had to calculate in real time the impact on the levy and mill rate, since it would have been impossible to calculate all of the potential combinations ahead of time.
But before that, we’ll get a look at the city’s budget on Tuesday, and what people have to say about it. People are never thrilled about tax rates rising, and some point out that it makes the surrounding areas look like much more attractive places to live with their lower rates.
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