Commissioners Discuss Options for $3 Million Windfall Settlement

Court House Windmill-2

Based on a $3,000,000 sales tax settlement, the source of which is protected by a court mandated gag order, the Prowers County Commissioners discussed an application for a temporary reduction in the county mill levy for 2015.  They have until December 10 of this year to act before certifying the current mill levy proposal.  A four mill reduction would result in $485,000 savings by reducing the current mill levy rate from 21.67 to 17.67.  The savings to a property owner who had a $100,000 house would be approximately $32.

Andy Wyatt, County Assessor, provided background to the commissioners and CPA Ron Farmer, on the development of the current tax base and a list of the 30 highest priced taxed properties in the county which would be impacted by the mill levy reduction.  Only nine of those 30 are considered locally owned and together, all 30 would receive a tax break of $296,792 if the reduction was approved.  The nine local businesses, in no specific order are:  Barth Farms Inc. and Reyman’s Grocery in Holly and the Lamar properties are: Colorado Mills, J-S Farms, Widener Richard Clede Sr. Family, May Farms, Ports to Plains Travel Plaza, First National Bank in Lamar and Community State Bank.  Their combined potential tax savings would amount to $15,581.

Farmer proposed an alternative to the mill levy reduction first asking, “Are you trying to get the benefits to the property tax owners or the residents of Prowers County?  If it’s the owners, than about $300,000 will go to thirty different businesses, a lot of which is going to go outside Prowers County.  If you want to give a benefit to the residents of Prowers County and limit it to the people who live here, spend money here, support the local economy then there may be a better way to do it than what you’re looking at with the mill levy reduction.”  Farmer was making the point that the top thirty businesses, such as BNSF, which is taxed on almost $23 million in property holdings, won’t really feel the benefit from the savings, even though they’d get almost one-third of the tax break.  Farmer asked, “Could you use some of this windfall money and leverage it out to a construction project that would benefit the residents of Prowers County?  Another suggestion was to take some of that windfall and use it as a matching fund as leverage for sizeable grants from the state or federal government for county projects.

Several members of the audience recommended similar ideas with Rose Anne Yates stating, “I really don’t think the $32 tax rebate would really help me in the long run, but I feel that putting this money back into improving the infrastructure of the county would be more beneficial for the residents.”  Pat Palmer suggested building shower and restroom facilities at the Fairgrounds, based on the number of annual rodeos that are hosted by the county.  Commission chairman, Joe Marble replied, “These have already been put into the 2015 budget for improvements including upgrades in the courthouse for electric, plumbing and the phone system.  We’re repaving the Annex parking lot as well as the east parking lot at the courthouse and looking at pay raises for county employees.”

Commissioner Wendy Buxton-Andrade proposed county bucks, similar to Lamar Luv Bucks, to be given to property owners that could only be spent within Prowers County.  “I think this would be more of an incentive to spend locally and return these funds to our economy.  This would be a more tangible way to go instead of just reducing their tax payment on their property,” she explained.

Commissioner Henry Schnabel told the audience that this is the first time the commissioners have viewed the tax breakdown figures, “We thought it would be great to use the windfall and mill levy reduction as tax incentives to return to the county residents and return part of that money to them.”  He added that the size of the mill levy reduction to those non-resident business was dismaying, “We’re just looking at the first time for a way give something back to the residents.”

Farmer suggested developing an ad hoc committee comprised of some county employees and interested citizens to figure out where our options are.  The commissioners said they have only until December 10 to take action on the budget and work would have to start immediately.  Members of the audience said they were ready to go.  The commissioners said they would take the suggestions under advisement, but needed to discuss the ramifications first among themselves.

By Russ Baldwin





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