For a homeowner with a house valued at $150,000, the rate change amounts to a $35 decrease in property taxes paid to county entities, from $336 to $301.
The owner of a $150,000 business would see the San Juan County tax bill drop by $64, from $612 to $548.
With the decision, Commissioners absorbed a $100 million increase in county property values into the prior year’s collections. Previously, taxing entities have most often accepted the “certified rate”, which results in increased revenue when property values are growing. The certified rate provides the same amount of tax revenue from the prior year’s properties, plus additional revenue from new growth.
A completely revenue neutral rate would have resulted in a 13.2 percent decrease in the tax rate. However, Commissioner Bruce Adams sought a way to cover increases in employee costs.
“I just want to make sure that we are not digging a hole that we are sorry we dug in a few months when budget time comes around,” said Adams.
Adams said he could support a decrease in tax rates “as long as we can keep the county whole, with no employment reductions or reductions in salary.”
Commissioner Phil Lyman had hoped for a completely “revenue neutral” stance but agreed to a small increase to account for growth in retirement and insurance costs for county employees. This amounts to $4 difference in the tax bill on a $150,000 home.
Clerk Norman Johnson reported that the cost for retirement benefits for county employees would increase from 13.77 to 16.04 percent of base salary for local government workers and from 27.07 to 31.37 percent of base salary for certified law enforcement workers.
The cost of health insurance is also expected to increase this year.
Four taxing entities, including San Juan County, the City of Blanding, the Monticello Cemetery District, and the San Juan Water Conservancy District, have adopted mostly revenue neutral rates.
Lyman said the decrease in tax rates is necessary to send a message of support to the business community. He added that in recent years, San Juan County had, through reassessment of existing properties, “turned the tables on the homeowners and the business communities.”
Lyman praised the City of Blanding for adopting a revenue neutral rate, adding that, “it may be a miniscule difference, but it sends a strong message.”
The City of Monticello will hold truth in taxation hearings, which signals a possible increase in tax rates above the certified rates.
Other taxing entities, including school districts, the health service district, Bluff service district, and others, will adopted rates before the end of June.
Because of growth in centrally-assessed properties and the revaluation of many locally-assessed commercial properties, the certified tax rate is likely to be lower across the board. Adopting a revenue neutral rate will result in additional cuts for taxpayers.
Commissioner Lyman asked about turnover in county employees. The Commission has discussed decreasing the number of county employees through attrition. Some positions wouldn’t be replaced when an employee retired or moved to another job.
Norman Johnson reports that there has been very little or no turnover at all in the county. County resident Merilyn Boynton said, “In an economy this bad, people hang on to their jobs desperately.”
In other business, county resident John Evans approached the Commission with concerns about plowing roads in the winter. Evans suggested that many of the road repairs each summer are necessary because of damage that snow plows do in the winter.
Evans said the county could save money by not plowing roads, adding, “God put the snow there, and he will provide the sunshine to get rid of it.”
Commissioners accepted a bid from Jones & DeMille to study the feasibility of expanding Dry Wash Reservoir, north of Blanding.
Preliminary estimates are that increasing the height of the dam by 17 feet could increase the capacity of the reservoir from 140 to 600 acre-feet of water.
Commissioners heard public comment on two proposals for the state Community Impact Board (CIB).
The first seeks a $60,000 CIB grant on a $120,000 project to build a storage building at the Blanding Cemetery. The cemetery district will provide the additional funding.
The second seeks a $65,000 CIB grant on a $145,000 project to expand the fire station in Eastland. San Miguel County in Colorado is donating a used fire engine, but it doesn’t quite fit in the existing building. USDA Rural Development is providing the additional funding.