SIOUX CITY | For the third straight year, Woodbury County will reduce its property tax levy.

County board of supervisors chairman Matthew Ung delivered the good news to taxpayers during a meeting Tuesday. While the fiscal 2018 budget must still go through some tinkering and a public hearing before being adopted in March, Ung said the hard work of reducing expenses and finding more non-property tax revenues has been achieved.

"With the approval of these expense reductions, revenue increases and corrections, a third consecutive year of countywide property tax decreases is assured," Ung said.

Budget adjustments approved thus far mean the fiscal 2018 tax rates will fall below the current levels of $7.45 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation for city residents and $10.50 for rural residents.

Even with a lower rate, some parcel owners could pay more in taxes to the county beginning this fall. Levies are one of two major factors in calculating tax bills, with other being the assessed value of the property.

Complicating the equation this year is a scheduled increase in the percentage of the assessed valuation of residential property subject to taxation under a state-imposed formula commonly known as a "rollback." As a result, the tax bill could rise, compared to the previous year, even if valuations stay the same and the levy falls.

County Finance Director Dennis Butler said he expects in the Feb. 21 budget meeting to discuss the impact of rollback changes on county property taxes.

In the current fiscal year, a city resident with a home assessed at $100,000, is paying $414.65 in property taxes to the county. Rural residents this year are paying $583.86 on homes with a $100,000 valuation. The current bill is $483.94 for agriculture land with $100,000 valuation.

Prior to the budget passed in March 2015, the county had not passed a budget with a lower property tax rate for at least 15 years.

For the fiscal year that begins July 1, the county supervisors entered the budget process in January with a $2.3 million deficit between revenue and expenses, heading toward an estimated $53 million budget.

Ung on Tuesday announced changes to the budget totaling $515,653 that had been pinpointed over the last week, as he worked with Butler. There were seven changes altogether, with two involving some expense cuts and five that included revenue increases or shifts.

The most substantial change aired Tuesday included using the county's 1 percent Local Option Sales Tax fund, rather than property taxes, to finance the Planning and Zoning Department, a step that reduced proposed property tax askings by $183,199, compared to the previous year.

Another major change to the budget was raising the expected revenues in the Juvenile Detention Center by $180,000, due to the anticipation of serving more people from outside agencies who would pay the county.

Department combination discussion

Additionally, the supervisors in the meeting discussed changes toward the merger of the Planning and Zoning and Rural Economic Development departments, as had been proposed by Supervisor Jeremy Taylor in January. He had said changes in the scope of duties by the two department directors could save money.

Taylor said Tuesday there would be "effective efficiency" by combining the departments, which could lessen the number of employees from a combined four. The supervisors shortly thereafter approved axing one administrative assistant position.

"It makes good sense for taxpayers," Taylor said.

The county is not required to have a Rural Economic Development Department, but created one in 2005. That department and the P&Z department share the sixth floor in the Woodbury County Courthouse.

The Rural Economic Development and Planning and Zoning departments each now have a director and an administrative assistant. The P&Z director is John Pylelo and the rural economic development director is David Gleiser.

Pylelo said the supervisors should proceed slowly, since it is possible one of the employees could retire by early September and forestall the need to cut a position.

The supervisors approved Taylor's proposal to remove one of the two administrative assistants, which could happen from July 1 to September. That will save from $58,000 to $48,000, depending upon when the cut is made effective.

The supervisors had no discussions on how the tasks handled by Gleiser or Pylelo could be pared down. Gleiser did not discuss the consolidation proposal in the meeting, but told the Journal he was willing to be involved in discussions "to explore savings and efficiency."

The county FY 2018 budget will run from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018. The budget plan must be set by March 15, and the supervisors will work on a few more budget details in February meetings.

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County and education reporter

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