During the work session that followed the regular weekly meeting of the Mitchell County Commissioners yesterday morning a question was raised that had no easy answer. The question, simply put, is how much tax incentive in the way of Neighborhood Revitalization Grants can the county afford to grant without creating solvency issues.
The Commissioners were meeting with Yvonne Melton, County Treasurer, Melinda Latham, County Appraiser, and Heather Hartman, Economic Development to discuss plans regarding the Neighborhood Revitalization program with the current cycle ending and the next one taking shape.
The current program requires parties to apply for the grant. They must pay the current tax liability on the property or structure. A high percentage of this tax is then refunded to the taxpayer. Over a ten year period, a smaller amount is refunded to the taxpayer each year and when the ten year period ends, the taxpayer pays the full amount with no refund.
Commissioner Tom Claussen said, "I have been silent long enough. I have on my county commissioner's hat now. We all know we have some long term debt we have to face. We have experienced some unexpected expenses lately.
"As a County Commissioner I believe we need to get the county on solid economic grounds. With the lack of rainfall, our farmers face a lot of uncertainty. We have given out a lot of money with these grants. It is a good program with good intentions. We have to ask ourselves, ‘How much money can we afford to continue to give away?"
Commissioner Mike Cooper spoke up saying, "The only way we will be able to cut the budget is to cut services."
Claussen responded, "I will not go along with a tax increase this year like the one we had last year."
Heather Hartman added, "The Neighborhood Revitalization program is the only thing I have to offer as incentive with Economic Development. I believe it is a worthwhile program.
It was agreed that this topic will be a challenging one with which to deal. Hard decisions seem to be on the horizons for everyone.
Ed Debesis, County EMS Director, gave his monthly report to the Commissioners. The ambulance service made thirty-two runs in the month of April putting the yearly total at one hundred fifty seven runs. This is eighty-eight below last year's number at this time.
Larry Emerson, Public Works Superintendent, reported the new auger is here and they have drilled test holes. "It works great and should do the job with no problems," he said.
Emerson reported that they hope to get started on the Tice Bridge this week. He projected the work would take at least three months to complete if everything went perfectly. A four month period of time might be more accurate according to Emerson.
He requested a fifteen minute executive session to discuss non elected personnel with the Commissioners. When the regular meeting resumed, it was announced no decisions had been made.
Clint Offutt addressed the Commissioners and requested permission to buy a forty-eight inch scanner from Osborne County. According to Offutt, they are asking two thousand dollars for it and a new one would cost six to seven thousand dollars. The Commissioners unanimously gave their approval for him to buy the scanner.
At nine thirty, Kristen Kadel, interim County Health Nurse, requested a fifteen minute executive session with the Commissioners. When the regular meeting resumed it was announced no decisions had been made.
Next on the agenda were Melinda Latham, County Appraiser and Mark Noah, County attorney. They addressed the Commissioners concerning the Court of Tax Appeals hearings that are held in Topeka. Currently when an Appeal Hearing is held in Topeka, Noah drives to Topeka to represent Mitchell County at the hearing. It is not unusual for a postponement to be granted or for the other party to change their mind. These situations result in Noah driving three hours to Topeka and then driving three hours back to Beloit with no hearing being held. Latham and Noah suggested that the Tax Hearings might be better handled by contracting the work to an attorney in Topeka or to an attorney in Salina who regularly attends these hearings in Topeka.
The commissioners gave Latham and Noah the green light to work on a solid proposal for them to consider. Commissioner Claussen said, "The money to contract this service will have to come out of the County Attorney's budget."
Latham and Noah requested a ten minute executive session to discuss pending litigation. At the end of the ten minute session it was announced no decisions had been made.
Having covered all the items on the agenda, the Commissioners adjourned to their work session.
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