The Dodge County Board of Supervisors approved the county’s 2018-2019 County Budget during its Wednesday public hearing, finalizing a property tax increase that the board has been discussing since preliminary budget numbers were released last month.
The new budget will increase the tax requirement by about 27 percent from last year. The tax levy will increase to $.271540 per $100 of valuation—up from last year’s levy of $.221618.
Over its last few meetings, the board has attributed the increase largely to a recently approved $11 million project with Motorola Solutions to revamp the county’s emergency radio system, which would be paid off at roughly $900,000 per year.
Additionally, board members have pointed to ballooning costs of housing a growing population of jail inmates, most of whom are housed at the Saunders County’s jail.
One member of the public, Scott Brentman, who said he was in farm management and real estate, voiced concerns about the increase, arguing that the increase would overburden farmers who are battling low grain prices already.
“We’ve had low grain prices coming as always,” he said. “But prices are going down.”
Supervisor Rob George said that the county had no other means of generating the necessary funds in the face of large projects like the radio system.
“That’s almost the state legislature’s issue to come out and figure out how to let counties do a sales tax or something along that line,” he said. “Property tax is probably the most unfair tax that’s out there.”
The radio system was also far more expensive than board members anticipated when they first explored the idea in 2017—but they were able to shave off almost a million dollars from the initial price estimate and the project was necessary for public safety, board members argued.
After the city of Fremont and Douglas County both adopted the revamped ORION radio system, communication between the Dodge County Sheriff and law enforcement in Douglas County and the city of Fremont became more complicated as Dodge County was operating on a different, outdated system.
Board chairman Bob Missel also expressed frustration that state aid to local governments has become increasingly scarce over the last decade.
“Ten years ago, we probably would have had matching funds from the state,” Missel said.
The board’s decision to enter into the project was “clearly not taken lightly,” Missel added, saying that “endless hours” had been spent to hammer down spending to try and offset the new costs, with departments cutting their budgets.
George added that there’s potential for additional property tax revenue in the future, especially as 18 poultry facilities, associated with the Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry operation, are expected to open up in the county. That would add additional property tax revenue, and could also have a positive effect on grain prices, George added.
“We need to be on board with ag-related stuff to help the farmers get their prices up,” he said.
Brentman understood the board’s concerns and asked that they “get behind legislation at the state level to change the structure and get some of these taxes on to other sources.”
Board members also pointed out that the county share of property taxes is far less than other entities who benefit from property tax—such as schools. The recently passed 2018-2019 Fremont Public Schools budget, for instance, had a tax levy of $1.257218 per $100 of valuation.
Supervisor Lon Strand said that one Dodge County resident called him concerned about a potential tax increase. After looking into it, Strand concluded that the county share of property taxes only accounted for 10 percent of the total number and yielded a two percent raise in his total property taxes. He added, however, that “everybody’s taxes are different.”
“The county portion is still one of the smallest things out there,” Strand said. “It’s still a lot of money, it’s still an increase, but the county does a very diligent job at keeping taxes as low as we can.”