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Tax losses are less than feared

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A fear held recently by county government officials, that the Bowie Mine shutdown and other factors would take over $500,000 from property tax revenues next year, has proven to be a fear largely unfounded.

During a county department head budget meeting on Monday, assessor Debbie Griffith reported that the hit to county revenues from the Bowie closure and other economic setbacks will be "less than $100,000," far less than originally thought.

Bowie was the county's biggest payer of property taxes until its closure.

Pressed further, Griffith said the hit would be approximately $60,000, just as she reported to the county commissioners on Aug. 15 and as reported in the DCI last week. Griffith further fine tuned her estimate stating it would be a $62,000 decline.

She explained to the other department heads at the session that large increases in state-assessed property values and increases in the assessed valuation of railroad property have softened the blow to the county.

The final assessed valuation figures for the county are certified in December.

There was also discussion at Monday's session of another big and unpredictable source of income to the county. Administrator Robbie LeValley reported that overall funding from the federal and state governments in four separate categories will probably be about equal to, or slightly less, than in 2015. The money comes to county government from state severance tax payments on minerals ($493,108 in 2015), from federal minerals leasing dollars ($367,820 in 2015), from a forest service program ($202,440 in 2015) and payment in lieu of taxes (PILT, $201,783 in 2015).

Commissioner Doug Atchley noted, "We know that severance tax payments will go down this year and next."

Although severance tax and minerals leasing are expected to decline this year, those declines are expected to be offset by increases in the PILT payments, LeValley explained. The amounts of the payments are announced in late August.

Monday's discussion of those two issues was a heads-up indicator of the county's overall financial outlook for department heads as they prepare to submit their 2017 departmental budgets by mid-September.

Other budget issues discussed at Monday's meeting included:

• The county commissioners intend to cover an 8 percent increase in insurance premiums for county employees. The premium increase of $55 per month for basic individual coverage will add $120,000 to the county's $1.6 million health insurance premium cost next year, it was reported.

Human resources department reported that the county last year utilized 120 percent of its benefit under the current plan. There were three employee claims in excess of $100,000, one of which was for over $750,000. The three together totalled over $1 million in county health insurance claims.

• The county dispatch center has landed a $300,000 DOLA grant for new communications equipment. The manufacturer of the current equipment is not going to provide software, upgrade, or maintenance support for the units beyond 2017. The grant will cover about two-thirds of the cost of replacing the communications consoles.

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