Published On: Thu, Sep 19th, 2013

Pierce County residents share their concerns about taxes

PIERCE — The Pierce County Board of Commissioners met Sept. 3, and worked through a lengthy agenda, including the annual budget hearing. The hearing for the 2013-14 budget was anything but ordinary as 25 interested patrons crowded into the board room.

Board Chairman Jim Maas opened the hearing and asked for comments from those in attendance. While the visitors were orderly and polite, the board got an earful.

One farmer said one of his properties went from $40 per acre to $50 an acre for tax purposes. He asked why the board believes it needs a 25 percent increase in taxes.

Chairman Maas told the group the board paid the inheritance tax fund back the money they “borrowed” from that fund to pay for part of the newly-concreted Pierce-Neligh Road. He said the board also opted to borrow money via bonds to finish paying for the road. Maas said they borrowed $2 million and set up a five-year payment plan.

Maas said they planned to have the road paid off in five years as opposed to 10 years because someday land will begin to drop in valuation and the board wants the road loan finished before that happens.

Another farmer said even though land valuation went up on an average of 21 percent, in reality irrigated land went up 30 percent and dry land 35 percent. He said he didn’t mind paying his fair share, but those kinds of increases are not justified.

CPA Mike Pommer told the group the board left the levy the same. He added there is not much “cushion” in the budget.

Some members of the group said they should not have paid the inheritance tax back because it will refuel itself with an aging population. Pommer said the board is being aggressive because they might have another big project they have to do.

One farmer said that road maintenance is “very poor” and they “don’t get their money’s worth.” Most of the group agreed by adding statements such as, the edge of the roads are washed out, minimum maintenance roads have big gullies in them and are grown up to grass, and most said they never see a road grader on their roads. One person added that road workers are back in town by 4 p.m.

County Assessor Peggy Wragge was asked to come to the meeting and explain how valuations are determined. Wragge said valuations are driven by sales. She also explained that the range for valuing farmland is 69.75 percent of 100 percent. She said she currently has farmland at 73 percent of 100 percent. She explained she must take sales for the last three years and sales from this year are not used yet. Wragge said she tries to set the percentage so there are not big jumps from one year to another.

Wragge said the Tax Equalization Review Commission looks at each county. She said if values are not in line with sales, they will come in and set the values.

One farmer said the county is cutting farmers’ throats and asked when is “enough enough.”

Maas said the people should direct complaints to the Legislature. Until they change formulas and ways to tax, it cannot change.

Maas said there is a meeting at the Lifelong Learning Center at Northeast Community College Sept. 26 and urged everyone to attend that meeting and direct their concerns towards the Legislature.