Some Warren County officials want to wait to roll back property tax collections until the costs of big projects such as the new $57 million jail have been absorbed into the county’s operating budget. LAWRENCE BUDD/STAFF Lawrence Budd
Photo: Lawrence Budd
Photo: Lawrence Budd

With money flowing in, some in Warren County pitch tax rollback

County administrator urges delay until building projects are completed.

Last week, the county commissioners approved a $74 million 2019 budget, including a 0.75 percent increase in spending and $5 million to help pay down debt on the new $50 million-plus county jail.

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County Administrator Tiffany Zindel projected the government would carry over $29 million from this year’s budget; of that amount, roughly $12 million should be held in reserve, she said.

Because of the positive economic forecast, Commissioner Dave Young proposed giving property owners a break in coming years by having the county roll back inside millage.

“I think that would be a great idea — once you get your reserve fund set, once you get the jail up and running, to see what your expenses are going to be,” Zindel said. “Definitely something you should consider.”

Commissioners Tom Grossmann and Shannon Jones agreed with Young that a property tax rollback was a good topic for discussion in 2019.

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Jones, however, said the rollback might make more sense “in just a few years,” given the ongoing building projects in the growing county.

In addition to the jail, expected to cost about $57 million, the county is expanding the probate-juvenile court complex for $4.4 million.

The county also budgeted for 2 percent pay raises for 325 employees under the commissioners’ management, and earmarked $2 million for children services — another area where expenses have spiked.

Zindel said county operating expenses have jumped from $45.5 million in 2005 to $68.9 million in 2017.

“We’ve gone through a lot of growth,” she said.

One issue is how much the county should hold in a reserve fund. Zindel said she and County Auditor Matt Nolan have been discussing what is an appropriate amount.

Tentatively the fund is set to hold $30 million, but could be adjusted as overall expenses increase, she said.

Young said he is confident the county next year will be able to roll back a portion of the property tax collected for county government use.

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“We’re very close to not needing a good chunk of money,” he said. “If we continue to do as well as we keep doing.”

Grossmann also expressed confidence that the rollback could begin next year “once we know the final accounting for 2018.”

“I’m not saying we will,” Grossmann said, while also advocating for another rollback of money collected through a property tax levy for the developmentally disabled.

Jones said the county is “always looking to do things as efficiently as possible,” but noted that Zindel’s projections don’t call for a rollback.

“If we can do it next year, great,” Jones said. “But that’s not what she said.”

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