(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
Eldon Moore of Bartley, who served as a Red Willow County commissioner from Jan. 7, 1969, through Dec, 31, 2000, told commissioner Steve Downer and about 30 fellow concerned citizens that he thinks commissioners can pay for county services AND the jail construction bond levy within the 50-cent levy limit mandated by the state.
Moore told those gathered at the community room Thursday evening in Bartley, "There's no question we need a jail. And there's no question where to put it." He admitted, "It was stupid on my part," not to have built a jail in the 1980s.
But, he thinks that potential valuation increases will help commissioners budget the construction bond levy within the county's 50-cent limit. He encourages tax payers to "hold commissioners' feet to the fire," and vote to keep the law enforcement center's bond levy within the county's general levy limit.
The county's 2011-12 general tax levy is $.380743, leaving wiggle room of close to 12 cents before hitting the 50-cent tax levy limit. The county has no levies outside the levy limit. The county's current tax valuation is $762,481,461.
Moore said that the county's valuation of agricultural land will increase 16 percent next year, and possibly another 20 percent or so in the next two to three years. These increases, he explained, are based on actual farm sales in the county.
Also, he said, in 2014, Valmont Industries in McCook loses its TIF (tax-increment financing) status and will be on the county's tax rolls for the first time since it opened on Dec. 15, 1999. The plant's valuation right now is $8,059,500.
Moore said that the 16 percent increase in ag land and the addition of Valmont in 2014 to the tax rolls will amount to another $54 million in taxable property. "If there are no other increases in property values, this should make the total taxable property in the county around $816,500,000," Moore said.
Moore said he knows it's tough to say "no," but he also thinks commissioners can reduce the cost of health care offered to county employees. And he doesn't think the state will get enough votes to take inheritance taxes away from counties.
Moore said his biggest mistake was not building a jail in the 1980s. He does think the county needs a jail, and that it should be built next door to the courthouse on Norris Avenue, but, he said, "Hold their (the commissioners') feet to the fire. ... force the county commissioners to spend no more than the statutory limit allows annually with the bond payment included ... force them to spend absolutely no more than what's needed within 50 cents ... "
Moore glanced at Downer and said, "We have three sensible county commissioners right now, and I know they can do this without creating any hardship for anybody. You can stay within 50 cents and not hurt anyone."
Downer said he's sure the current board can live within the 50-cent limit. He said he'd still like to see the bond levy outside the 50-cent levy limit, because he's concerned for future boards which may have to deal with the "trickle down" impact on county budgets caused by legislation passed by the state and even by the federal government.
Someone in the crowd added, "Twenty years is an awfully long time to commit to staying within 50 cents."
Downer explained that placing bond levies outside the levy limit can make the bonds easier to sell.
Losing inheritance taxes would have a larger impact on the county's budget than the 4 1/2-cent levy for the jail construction bond, Downer said.
And, Downer said, county employees would have to be compensated at some degree if their share of their health insurance increases. "I don't want to dock someone's wages by increasing their co-pay," Downer said.
Several residents spoke in support of commissioners' decision to build a jail and law enforcement center, and to build it next door to the courthouse. "It's long overdue," someone said. "It's a facility that's been needed for a long time. And a facility next to the courthouse is ideal ... it'll offer better security for the officers."
Dorwin Felker, who, with his wife, Roberta, attends many commissioners' meeting, supported commissioners' decision to build next to the courthouse, not only for safety and efficiency, but for aesthetics of the proposed design as well. Other counties have their jails next to their courthouses, he said, and they're built in such a way that they don't look like jails. "We drove around the courthouse block in Holdrege three times before we found the jail," he said.
Another said that the jail study "hasn't happened overnight. It's been a long time coming." He continued, "Do I like a tax increase? Hell, no. Nobody does. But it's (transporting prisoners and studying the county's jail situation) gone on too long."
Another, an over-the-road truck driver, said, "I'm tired of meeting Red Willow County deputies on the road outside the county."
One resident reminded voters that a vote on May 15 against placing the construction bond levy outside the county's 50-cent levy limit is not a vote against construction of the law enforcement center and/or its construction next to the courthouse. "It's a misconception that a vote against the bond is a vote against the jail. That's not the case," he said.
At the polls on Tuesday, May 15, a vote "for" places the construction bond levy outside the general fund levy limit of 50 cents and in addition to whatever amount the county levies for its general budget. A vote "no" places the construction bond levy within the 50-cent general fund levy limit.
Dale Dueland of McCook, a tax payer against the construction of a jail between the courthouse and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home of Jan and Van Korell, did not attend the community meeting in Bartley as he did meetings in Danbury, McCook and Indianola.
Community meetings to explain the bond election continue Tuesday, May 8, at 2:30 p.m., at Willow Ridge in McCook; and at 7:30 p.m., in the Lebanon village board room.