Skip to main content

Supervisors get an earful on proposed tax asking

New Hampton Tribune and Nashua Reporter - Staff Photo - Create Article

By Bob Fenske

Of the Reporter

The 50 or so residents who turned out Wednesday evening for Chickasaw County’s public hearing on its maximum tax levy sent a message to the Board of Supervisors: An 18.95 percent increase in tax-asking by the county is unacceptable.

For almost an hour, residents not only challenged the supervisors to lower its tax asking for the fiscal year but also expressed their frustrations on the confusing nature of Iowa’s property tax laws, which they said were further exacerbated by a letter property owners received as part of new law passed by the Iowa Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law last year.

“On one hand, you get the letter and it looks like your property taxes are going to go down and then you read in the paper it’s 19 percent going up,” New Hampton resident Darlene Schwickerath said. “It’s hard for us lay people to understand that.”

Supervisors opened Wednesday evening’s meeting by having County Assessor Ray Armel explain the property-tax system, and as he did in a story that appeared in last week’s Reporter, he said the letter the county sent out detailing levy rates proposed by counties, cities and schools would affect property owners is “deceiving.”

“The Department of Management has said it is deceiving because they utilized $100,000 value for both years … and we all know that property values usually increase.”

He pointed out that “If the values increase, levy rates stay the same and the rollback stay the same, taxes will go up.”

And Armel readily admitted Wednesday night that Iowa’s property tax system is complex. Property values can change from year to year, but so, too, does the rollback which actually sets the actual tax value of property. In Chickasaw County, for example, the average home in some cities and townships will actually have a smaller tax value next year than it did this year.

Supervisors, though, set their max levies higher this year than they did last year. While General Basic remained the same at $3.50 per $1,000 valuation, the maximum allowed by state law, the proposed General Supplemental levy increased by more than a $1 per $1,000 valuation and the proposed Rural Services Basic’s max levy jumped by almost 50 cents per $1,000 valuation to $3.70100.

And that means many property owners in the county would see  healthy increases to the county portion of their property-tax bills if the max levy is part of the final budget and levy the county must certify by April 30.

And that didn’t sit well with numerous residents, including Arnie Boge, who represented the Nashua area for 24 years on the Board of Supervisors before retiring in 2010.

“Nineteen percent is not sustainable,” he said. “A closing comment is can’t we just live within our means? Do what needs to be done to balance the budget and not raise the taxes that kind of percentage. I do appreciate that the cost of inflation and the cost of things are going up, but 19 percent can’t be sustained.”

He asked board members if they “sit down and discuss amongst yourself what you have for new dollars? If you don’t, you ought to.” Boge added that during the meetings he’s attended since last spring that he believes board members haven’t differentiated between the county’s needs and wants.

“”Now, we’ve all been down that path with our children and whatever we have for responsibilities,” he said. “We have to place a different value on the wants and the needs based on what you have to work with.”

Other residents chided the board for decisions it has made in the past year, and one subject that consistently came up was the board’s decision late last summer to pay more of the costs for family health insurance plans.

“”I do believe the county should provide adequate benefits for the employees,” Jeremy McGrath said. “I’m just concerned about the fact that the decision was made before we knew how we were going to pay for it.”

Fredericksburg resident Doreen Cook echoed McGrath’s comments.

“They said, ‘Well I guess I should have done my due diligence because I didn’t know what it was going to cost us.’ That’s not benefiting the taxpayer at all,” said Cook, who also said board members have not done their due diligence in setting salaries for some of its county employees.

She expressed frustration about the contract with Chickasaw County EMS Director Joel Knutson that board members agreed to on Monday. Knutson currently receives $60,000 a year to serve as the director of the county-owned ambulance service and also is paid an additional $31 per hour if he takes on a paramedic shift. Starting July 1, though, he will be paid $80,000 a year and be required to work at least 60 hours every two weeks and will not be paid for taking on additional shifts.

Cook also said that the county “seems to start its employees at  the highest rate … even though they’ve never worked a day in that office. … You need to be more responsible, much more responsible.”

For the most part, the discussion remained civil during the meeting that was held in the courthouse’s third-floor courtroom, and one county resident interjected a little humor into the proceedings.

Rural New Hampton resident Steve Kurash told the board that he felt they needed to “phase in” the family health insurance premium, but when he was done with his talk on the budget, he didn’t sit down.

My last comment really isn’t with the budget but I’m going to say it while I have this [microphone],” Kurash said as the courtroom erupted in laughter. “How about road rock on my road? I mean the wind turbine people didn’t do me any favors, I’ve got potholes so I just want to throw that out there … if you have a couple extra truckloads, put them on 160th.”

But in the end, the message the board got Wednesday night and that its members will discuss at this coming Monday’s meeting is that the tax-asking is simply too high.

“That tax asking was 3,040,088 when I left six years ago and now you’re well over $6 million,” Boge said. “

Try to work back through this process and have some trimming done and try to trim 75 percent of this tax-asking out of your budget,” he said. “And then set a levy and then let your department heads manage their budgets because they’ll work with you.”

Thank you for reading!

To read the full version of all available articles, you must be a subscriber to the New Hampton Tribune's website. To become a subscriber, please click here to be taken to our subscription page. If you already are a subscriber, please click here to login to the site and continue reading. Thank you.