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No tax increase

Polk County Commissioners agree to have no increases in 2020-2021

COLUMBUS—Polk County residents could have a sigh of relief when they get their property tax bills to see no increases this upcoming fiscal year.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday through a Zoom meeting and came to a consensus that there will be no tax increases for either property tax or fire tax for fiscal year 2020-2021.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson placed the item on the agenda, saying considering the negative impact imposed on residents from COVID-19, he wanted to direct county manager Marche Pittman to present a balanced budget with no tax increases, including for fire districts.

“I hope that the other commissioners also support the no tax increase position that I am advocating,” Gasperson said.

Commissioner vice-chair Tommy Melton said he thinks last year when the board voted for a 2-cent tax increase (1 cent for the sheriff’s office and 1 cent for the school system), that all commissioners said they would not have a tax increase for 2020-2021.

“I support no tax increase but it’s something we have all discussed over the last 10 months,” Melton said.

Gasperson said he agreed commissioners have discussed no tax increase next year but he would also like to include there be no increases for any of the county’s 6 fire districts.

Commissioner David Moore said he appreciated Gasperson putting the item on the agenda, and said he thinks the board could do a little more.

“I would consider giving a tax decrease,” Moore said.

Moore said there are a lot of families out of work and who have been hit hard with this pandemic. He said Polk County is sitting on a little over $9 million in fund balance and he thinks the board should consider giving residents a tax break. Moore suggested a 3-cent reduction in the tax rate, but said commissioners could discuss what would be feasible.

Commissioner Paul Beiler also said he appreciated Gasperson placing the item on the agenda and said he too understood last year commissioners agreed not to have a tax increase for 2020-2021. He said given the fact that it will be an interesting budget year with the unknowns, he would hesitate on the 3-cent tax decrease.

“We don’t know the extent we are going to be facing with the whole COVID-19,” Beiler said.

Commissioner chair Myron Yoder said he’s heard from residents that Polk County has a large fund balance, but he calls it a healthy fund balance.

“I’m very glad for the management of this board, prior boards and especially county manager Pittman that we have a healthy fund balance for times such as these,” Yoder said. “We don’t know yet where we are going to be at.”

Yoder and others discussed the fact that the county’s sales tax will likely be down next year and the possible unknowns because of the virus.

“We don’t know yet what’s going to happen,” Yoder said. “Our sales taxes are going to be way off. I’d hesitate at this time to put a decrease at the moment.”

Pittman said 3 pennies on the tax rate is about $900,000 for the county, which is a significant amount of money for a county Polk’s size.

“These are the times fund balances were created for,” Pittman said.

Gasperson asked if close to $1 million would mean a cut in services for the county.

Pittman said he’s a taxpayer and would love to cut taxes, but $1 million would mean a cut in services. Pittman said Polk’s current 34 percent fund balance is operating expenses for 3 months and is average for a county of Polk’s size.

Polk’s new budget year will begin July 1.