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Landowner asks county to spend less money
September 23, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Scotts Bluff County Commissioners approved the county’s 2016-2017 budget during a public hearing at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting, but for one landowner, it was a hard pill to swallow.

The budget summary had a tax asking of $11,510,314, producing a levy of 41.4 cents, a .19 percent increase over last year. The latest valuation of all properties in the county was just over $2 billion, $65 million higher than last year, a 2.4 percent increase.

Jerry Crable, the county’s management accountant, said the original budget was almost $4 million higher than what was presented to the county board. “It took a lot of cutting and cooperation, especially from larger departments,” he said “We got it the budget down to just under the levy limit. That’s as close as we can get.”

Terry Jessen, an accountant and ag producer, had a problem with those numbers and expressed a great concern about overspending.

“This county cannot afford a $291,835 increase in tax requests,” Jessen told the county board. “In Scotts Bluff County, 24.4 percent of the valuation is from agricultural property, and agriculture is in a major downturn due to livestock and commodity prices.”

He added the county’s mill levy isn’t the highest among nine counties he researched, but it’s among the highest.

Jessen said the solution for any governmental agency is simple – spend less money. “I’m not here because I want to be, but agriculture is screaming to be heard,” he told the board. “The economic pressure on agriculture is severe and it won’t get better for a few years.”

Commissioner Steve Stratton, who is also in the agriculture business, said he understood the problems ag producers face. However, a lot of spending at the county level is mandated by the state.

“The state balances its budget on the backs of the counties,” Stratton said. “We don’t have any recourse but to go along. We try to do the best with what we have, but as the economic hub of the area, we provide a lot of necessary services other counties don’t.”

But Jessen claimed all the levels of government are sucking the country dry. In 2010, taxation from all county entities totaled about $39 million. By 2014, it was $46 million.

County Board Chairman Mark Masterton said they’re limited by the state what they can do. That includes submitting a balan
ced budget each year. How to get there is the challenge.

“The state keeps piling on unfunded mandates to balance their budget and expect us to take care of the difference,” Masterton said. “We’ve cut about everything we can think of. We’re not building roads or repairing bridges, which is what most people are concerned about.”

Commissioners Ken Meyer, who had been a members of the Scottsbluff School Board, said those budgets are also difficult to work out, as the school districts receive a large majority of property tax dollars.

“It’s tough to live in a community where you don’t have anything but property taxes to pay the bills,” Meyer said. “Until we get some more industry here or something else, the burden will continue to be on property tax.”

Commissioners also received an update from Nebraska Public Power District on progress to extend a new electrical transmission line from their substation at Stegall east to the substation on the Beltline in Scottsbluff, about 23 miles. The project would enhance the reliability of the electrical system in the western Panhandle region.

Ron Starzec, the power district’s Land Management Appraiser, said the line route has been finalized and they’ve hired a construction contractor.

Many of the poles and other equipment are currently on-site, and construction is expected to begin this month with foundation work and tree removal. Completion date is expected for June 2017.

The county board also rejected renewing a contract with the State of Wyoming to house that state’s juveniles in the county jail. That led to a discussion over whether the county would eliminate its juvenile services.

Chairman Masterton said the county shouldn’t be obligated to house juveniles when they’re spending $3,500 a day sending 78 adult prisoners to other facilities because of the county jail’s overcrowded conditions.

Earlier this year, Wyoming officials refused to accept any adult prisoners from Scotts Bluff County at its Torrington jail.

Commissioner Meyer cast the lone no vote, saying now was not the time to mess with the juvenile contract because a holding facility was still necessary for local juvenile offend
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