SIOUX CITY | The Woodbury County Board on Tuesday advanced a budget plan with the largest increase in property tax levy rates in the last five years.

The board members voted 4-1 to advance the roughly $51 million 2014-15 fiscal year budget plan. It would increase annual taxes by $37 for city residents with homes having an assessed value of $100,000.

The county overall is set to take in $1.63 million in additional property taxes in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The tax hike and the rest of the spending plan won't officially be approved until a vote following a March 11 public hearing, the final step in the budget process.

In the current fiscal year, city residents are paying a levy of $7.40 per $1,000 in assessed property value. The levy that rural residents pay into the Rural Basic Fund is currently $11.05 per $1,000.

The new proposed levy rates are $7.77 per $1,000 for city residents and $11.42 for rural residents.

Board member David Tripp, of Sioux City, voted against the plan.

"We have to learn to cut something. ... I'm not for raising taxes," Tripp said.

Other county officials said the tax hike isn't too steep, even as board chairman George Boykin, of Sioux City, acknowledged some people won't like it as other household costs rise.

County Budget Director Dennis Butler said the tax levy had been reduced by 38 cents per $1,000 over the last eight years combined. The proposed levy boost for 2014-15 of 37 cents per $1,000 will essentially wash out the gains of the prior eight years.

The board had made cuts to proposed departmental spending in five prior meetings. Much of the cutting was for proposed new employee positions, including some sought by Sheriff Dave Drew for the jail. They also cut down utility and office equipment expenses.

The board members came into the Tuesday meeting with a few options to narrow a $2.3 million budget gap, including spending reductions, tapping reserve accounts and borrowing money. The board members didn't pursue borrowing money or making additional spending cuts to reduce the tax increase. They did erase one-fourth of the gap by shifting $623,685 in funds Tuesday, but that wasn't enough to forestall a tax increase.

In recent years the county had leaned heavily on shifting reserve account money to fill budget holes.  

Boykin said the budget plan is a "good compromise" that won't result in any employees being cut or crimping needed departmental services.

"County departments are now at bare bones. Any further reductions could reduce services to the public," Butler wrote in a memo.

Iowa counties must set budgets by March 15.

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County and education reporter

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