The Antelope County Commissioners Pass 19/20 Budget

The Antelope County Commissioners approved the 2019/2020 fiscal budget which will raise taxes on property owners.
On separate three-to-one vote (Commissioner Allan Bentley was absent), the commissioners approved a tax levy and a budget calling for a personal and real property tax requirement in excess of $6.1 million. Voting “no” both times was Chairman Tom Borer, who like Bentley, is facing a recall election next month.
One year ago the tax request was almost $5.4 million. That was before the March storms severely damaged roads and bridges throughout much of the county. The tax levy will rise by 2.5 percent, meaning a person with a $100,000 home would pay $27 more in taxes than one year ago.
The tax increase is to continue work on the roads and bridges as the county, like others across the state, waits for reimbursement from FEMA.
Commissioner Charlie Henery said, since the last meeting, constituents (many of them farmers) have told him they understand the need for a tax hike in order to take care of the roads and get their crops to market.
Dean Smith, one of three new commissioners who took office in January, said a fair amount of the tax increase is because of storm damage. He said the large tax levy increase (12.5 percent) hopefully will go away next year. He said even with FEMA reimbursements, the county is on the hook for a good percentage of the road and bridge repairs (over 10 percent).
He said some of the changes being made with asphalt on county roads may not, in the short term, save tax dollars, but “in the long term will help us with yearly maintenance costs.”
Later, Smith said his view about county taxes has changed since taking office. He said he had hopes to change some things and have some results at budget time. “The storm just threw a monkey wrench,” he said, into his ideas to try and reduce the tax asking.
“It all went out the window,” he said. “I don’t like sitting here right now with this decision.”
Borer said about the contacts he had in District #5, “I haven’t run into anybody who wants a tax increase … they’re against it.”
Public comments
One voice in the audience said he wanted to see “no” votes on the budget. “A no vote would be great.”
Another constituent said he doesn’t believe the people of Antelope County understand why you need to spend more money. Saying he was “a little bit irritated … if you’re going to charge me another $20,000 in real estate tax, I’m going to say something.”
County Assessor Kelly Mueller corrected statements made at a previous meeting about ag land taxes rising. She said a review of the last three years showed ag land, where there had been no improvements made, has decreased. She said she met with several farmers to explain the numbers.
The county could face a potential financial crisis in the coming fiscal year. County Treasurer Deb Branstiter said reviewing budget figures and the steps taken with this year’s budget, projecting out to March 31, the county could be left with just $1 million to spend after all regular expenses have been taken out.
“I’m just warning you about the cash flow,” she said.
One future option would be to pursue a bond, like other counties have, to do repairs to roads and bridges. County Clerk Lisa Payne said even if a bond is pursued, taxpayers will have to pay.
Smith said he wanted the public to know, it (bonds) may be something we have to do.
“I don’t know if we can walk on egg shells,” he said. “Everybody is on thin ice as pulling down reserves, inheritance fund …I guess time will tell.”
Henery summed it up best by saying, “We’ve got a lot to deal with guys.”