Despite pleas from residents to not raise property taxes, two Douglas County commissioners held firm to a $69 million budget and the 2.993 mill increase that came with it.
Close to 30 residents addressed county commissioners Wednesday night as they gave final approval of the 2011 budget. More than half of those residents asked the commission to not raise taxes for anything but the bare essentials.
Many of them voiced support for Commissioner Jim Flory’s amendment to reduce the budget by $862,000, doing away with the two $350,000 allotments that would go toward economic development and preserving the county’s heritage and open space. Flory’s amendment also would have taken away $162,372 that had been budgeted for employee merit bonuses.
Douglas County resident Danny Johnson said that with the recent recession he was “astounded” the commissioners were looking to boost property taxes.
“I think it is really poor timing to increase taxes for anything that is not an absolute necessity,” he said.
Others defended the need for funneling money to programs that promoted job growth, tourism and preserving the county’s agricultural character.
With the approaching 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, local John Brown portrayer Kerry Altenbernd said that Douglas County has a chance to capitalize on a wave of tourism.
“If we fail to do this now, protect our heritage and open spaces and put it off a few more years, we may not have this advantage, we may not have this chance again,” he said.
In the end, Commission Chairwoman Nancy Thellman and Commissioner Mike Gaughan approved the budget as it was proposed. Flory voted against it.
The approval will add $51.63 to the property tax bill for the owner of a $150,000 home. Flory’s amendment would have reduced that amount by about $13.
Flory said he wasn’t against efforts to promote job growth, the county’s heritage or preserve open space. But he believed they should be supported by a sales tax that is approved by voters.
Both Gaughan and Thellman said their constituents have voiced support for economic development and historic and open-space preservation.
“It is part of our responsibility to have a vision for our whole community and not just talk about it, but act on it,” Thellman said. “We have tremendous opportunities around us. We are taking modest steps to begin to bring some of that vision to life for our community.