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Sales tax revenue up, tax rate down in county

Buoyed by strong sales tax returns, the Pierce County Board unanimously approved its budget for 2021.

COVID-19 has affected a lot of things. It’s changed the way all government bodies meet. The technology of the “virtual” meetings perhaps hasn’t caught up with where it needs to be in some cases.

Take the Nov. 10 county board meeting for example.

The county was discussing the budget, and we’ll get to the heart of that discussion shortly.

Some obvious things were amiss because of the pandemic. Some county board members and staff were “hunkered” in their COVID-19 bunker where they’ve been meeting at the Emergency Operations Center at the Law Enforcement Center, 555 Overlook Dr., Ellsworth. Public and media weren’t allowed to attend in person, meaning they had to attend over the World Wide Web.

County Administrative Coordinator Jason Matthys “attended” from home, where he said he was working after having to abruptly leave his office the day before because of virus danger.

The county board meandered through some routine annual items of business, such as passing a resolution to allow the treasurer’s office to cancel checks that haven’t been cashed.

One motion in the meeting came from Supervisor Ruth Wood.

“I have to get my name in the minutes,” she joked.

County Board Chairman Jeff Holst is known to be quick with a comment, but this reporter is concerned that perhaps the pandemic has taken it toll on him.

“Even without a small town paper, we still get them in there,” he said.

Without a small town paper? Chairman Holst! Had this reporter not been on “mute” on this call, he would have had a few words for the chairman! This reporter will give Chairman Holst the benefit of the doubt, however, as he obviously now feels the Pierce County Journal has hit the big time since the county board voted it as Pierce County’s Newspaper of Record in February.

On to the budget!

The 2021 Pierce County tax levy and budget were unanimously approved on their second reading. The first reading took place at the Oct. 27 meeting.

The resolution approved by the board reads: “Be it resolved, that there be a tax levied upon all taxable property in Pierce County for operation and maintenance for the 2021 budget in the amount of: County Operating Levy $16,227,712, Debt Servce $3,223,138, County Library $459,646, and County Aid Bridges $200,000 for a total fo $20,110,496.”

The tax rate to support that levy – the amount Pierce County property owners will pay next month on their tax statement – will be down from approximately $5.72 per $1,000 of property valuation to $5.36. Using a home valued at $150,000, the county share of the overall tax burden would be $803.43, compared to $857.37 a year ago. The tax levy itself is up just slightly from 2020 levy of $20,073,306.

It’s definitely a year of uncertainty with budgets, but Finance Director Julie Brickner said that sales tax receipts are actually up this year so far, so that’s a bright spot in the county revenue department.

Asked to talk about the budget, Brickner said, “The revenues will be down a little bit, like $300,000. We tried to estimate the state revenues and what would come in. The revenues look like they’re going to be down. The program revenue is down 16 percent. Some of the other generated revenues are down 5 percent. Depending on what happens with COVID, that could certainly turn around.”

“This is kind of our best guess of what could happen,” said Holst.

Brickner continued, “Just to give you an idea, our sales tax revenue is actually up about $145,000 through August. We’ve done really well this year with our sales tax revenue. We hope that continues.”

“We were building out the budget not knowing exactly what is going to happen in 2021,” said Matthys. “We were making our projections based off of what kind of numbers that we saw and what the markets were. There is no cookie cutter approach to this across the state. Some folks are experiencing revenues higher than they’ve ever seen before, while others are absolutely in arrears. For us right now, as Julie mentioned, were up a little.”

As part of its annual business, the board approved a resolution paying for “Care of Soldiers Graves.”

A memo to the board from Pierce County Clerk Jamie Feuerhelm’s office states: “The board by Statute 45.85 is obligated to pay these claims. The formula is $3 per grave site. This formula or amount was determined by a County Board numerous years ago. The statute itself does not dictate a specific amount. The amount has not changed since November of 1977. These claims are paid out of a specific fund within the clerk’s budget reserved for said purpose.”

The total being paid is $7,230 and it is being disbursed for care of soldiers graves to cemetery associations. (See related chart in next column.)