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Clark tax rate to stay stable

In a year that has seen many unpredictable trends, one in Clark County will stay stable — the county’s property tax rate. If approved by the full county Board of Supervisors after a public hearing on Nov. 10, the tax rate for 2021 will be almost identical to not only 2020’s, but the one in place for the past eight years.

The Board got its first look at the proposed 2021 revenue and spending plan at an Oct. 8 meeting at the Courthouse in Neillsville. The plan calls for a 2.4 percent increase in overall county spending — to $70.2 million — but with a tax rate that will stay identical to last year’s thanks to the use of fund balances and the slight tax levy increase allowed by the state based on new property value growth over the past year.

The proposed budget calls for a property tax rate of $8.043 per $1,000 of property value. That means the owner of $100,000 of real estate in the county will pay $804.30 in county-purpose taxes next year, or one penny less than they did this year.

After years of fluctuating tax rates that varied from more than $9 per $1,000 of value prior to 2000 to a recent low of $6.67 in 2009, the county’s tax rate has stabilized in recent years. That’s largely due to a state tax rate freeze that limits county rate increases only to the amount of real estate value growth they see in a given year. If there is no growth, a county cannot ask taxpayers for more money. With that rule in place, Clark County settled on a rate of $8.09 in 2015, and it has stayed within five cents of that mark every year since.

In the past year, Clark County’s property value growth grew only slightly at 1.23 percent, to about $2.25 billion. That’s significantly less than the prior year’s growth of 3.75 percent, and thus limited how much the county could increase its tax collections next year. This year’s allowed increase was $171,421, compared to $504,730 a year ago.

To offset that decrease, the county will use more of its cash balances to balance next year’s budget with a stable tax rate. Various departments have fund balances that build over time if expenses are less than planned or revenues are higher than expected. For 2021, the county will use $7.46 million of those balances, compared to $6.43 million a year ago.

The county will also use short-term borrowing in 2021 to obtain money for road maintenance. Each of the past several years, the county has used the funding mechanism to keep up with road needs while meeting the tax rate limit. Since debt costs are not included in the limit, the county can borrow needed funds but pay them back in a very short time frame. That means the borrowed money does not count against the limit, and the borrowing costs are low.

In 2021, the county will borrow $2.9 million. With that, it will be able to pave 15.5 miles of county highways, compared to only two miles if it did not get the loan.

With 300 miles of county roads to maintain, the county needs to pave about 15 each summer to stay on a schedule of paving all roads every 20 years. The $2.9 million will keep it on track for the coming year.

Roads to be paved next year will include: — 8.5 miles of County Road D in the northeast quadrant of the county — 4 miles of County Road M south of Thorp — 2 miles of County Road N near Longwood — 3 miles of County Road K from County Road N south The county also plans to spend $372,000 from its annual highway maintenance budget to chip seal 18.6 miles of portions of County Roads D, E, O and N.

The 2021 budget also includes money for completion of the new multi-purpose barn at the fairgrounds in Neillsville. The budget includes $830,000 for the project, but half of that is to be returned to the general fund over the next few years as pledged donations are received.

Not included in the 2021 budget are any funds for a possible courthouse renovation for a single secure entrance to improve security and access for those with disabilities. The Board heard a report in September about the need to reduce the number of public access points at the courthouse from five to one. That could cost around $1 million, depending on which of several plans is eventually selected.

The county’s 5-year capital expenditure projection plan does include $1 million for the courthouse entrance project for 2022. Also on the projection of that year is $5 million for a highway department facility construction project and $800,000 for remodeling at the Rehabilitation & Living Center near Owen.