A county budget proposal would cut taxes beyond what taxpayers were promised last year.
If Douglas County commissioners accepted their staff's recommended 1996 budget without change, most property owners would see a 2 percent reduction in the county's portion of their tax bills.
The $25,043,220 budget, drafted by County Administrator Craig Weinaug, would increase county expenditures by $796,390. However, that amount would be more than offset by a 12.8 percent projected increase in the valuation of property that is subject to tax.
``We're accomplishing a 4 1/2-mill decrease through smaller expenditures,'' Weinaug said.
A mill represents $1 of tax for every $1,000 of valuation.
``It's also more than twice the levy reduction that was promised for the sales tax,'' he said. ``It also includes additional funds for operating the new jail. That in itself is probably an additional two mills'' in future expenditures.
With inflation, the 2 percent decrease in most property tax bills would be an effective cut of 5 percent.
County Commissioner Mark Buhler said his initial impression of the staff recommendation was that the county could be frugal with little or no effect on services.
``I'm pretty encouraged because it tells me that valuations are going up, and it's apparent to me there is some relief in the impact on residential taxpayers,'' Buhler said.
He and the other two county commissioners, who received advance copies of the budget recommendation late Friday, said they needed more time to study the draft. Hearings on the budget are likely to begin in a couple of weeks. The final budget will be approved next month.
County voters were guaranteed a 2-mill reduction in the mill levy in exchange for their approval last year of a 1 percent countywide sales tax that would pay for half of a capital improvement program for local health agencies and construction of a new $11 million county jail.
Operating costs for the jail, which the county will begin to incur in 1997, also will be paid from sales tax revenues, Weinaug said. The county expects to receive $4,560,000 from the sales taxes in 1996 and will set those aside.
``We should be able to take care of the capital costs of both those projects plus the operating costs of the new jail,'' he said.
The budget draft also includes options for reduction of another 2.5 mills, or about $1 million, but Weinaug said he was not willing to endorse those cuts.
Weinaug's recommended version of the budget juggles some staff and calls for a net reduction of one full-time employee. The additional cuts commissioners might consider could reduce the payroll further.
County Commissioner Jim Chappell, who has championed the cause of government thrift, said he was interested in adopting some of those additional reductions.
``I'm not necessarily buying into the fact that if we do those, we'll be in worse shape down the road,'' he said, referring to claims by Buhler and Weinaug that deep, one-time cuts are penny-wise but pound-foolish.
Weinaug noted in an interview this morning that the budget he's proposing would use ending balances in some departmental funds to pay operating costs in 1996. Doing that would achieve a one-time savings that would have to be financed from new tax dollars in the future and, by Weinaug's estimate, would add a mill to the 1997 budget.
That bothers Commission Chair Louie McElhaney, who wants the mill levy to be consistent or to drop.
``I'm not content with spending all our reserves in one year in order to show a good figure,'' he said.