Commissioners back away from 6-cent tax hike

Howard County property owners apparently won't be in for as big an increase in their tax bills as originally feared.During a budget work session Monday, county commissioners decided to back away from a 6-cent increase for the upcoming fiscal year.Instead, consensus was reached of going with the “effective” tax rate of 36 cents per $100 valuation, which would raise the same amount of revenue as last year. That figure would still represent a 3-cent increase over the current rate, officials said.Commissioners looked long and hard at adopting a tax rate of 38.7 cents per $100 valuation, mainly because of the uncertain fiscal climate facing the county. Mineral values, which had been expected to increase this year, instead went down and County Judge Mark Barr said there was no guarantee they would stabilize in the near future.“if everything was hunky-dorey … I'd be fine with going with the effective rate,” Barr said. “But we have landfill costs coming up and we have roads which we're going to have to fix and our jail population is going through the roof.”Barr found support from Commissioner Donnie Baker, who said it was better to be “safe than sorry” when adopting a tax rate.“I don't like the idea of raising taxes, but I don't see a way around it, considering the circumstances right now,” Baker said.However, commissioners Jimmie Long, John Cline and Oscar Garcia all were of the opinion that the county could get buy with a smaller tax rate this coming fiscal year.“I understand there are some clouds on the horizon, but for now, I'd prefer to go with the effective tax rate,” Garcia said.Long said, in effect, that the county should deal with future issues in the future.“Right now, it's all what-ifs and maybe-sos,” he said. “If values continue to fall … I believe we will be able to make our case to the taxpayers if we have to go with the rollback rate or even higher. For this year, I think we should go with the effective rate.”