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County Commission Communications
A Periodic Column Written by Ed Douglas, Presiding Commissioner

Tax Rate Comparisons Between Livingston County and Surrounding Counties

Although I have only been involved with preparing our County budget once, I can attest to the fact that our county budget is very tight. This causes issues for our county.

One issue is not having a general fund reserve which makes us vulnerable to unexpected events. (For comparison, one of our surrounding counties told me recently they have nearly $2 million in various reserves.) Additionally, we have an ongoing shortfall in meeting the cost of 911 service which is currently $80,000 annually and growing. Possibly the biggest issue created by our tight budget is that we are not able to offer some county services that are needed. As just one example, with additional revenue we could assist the townships in improving the quality of county roads.

We are trying to be as efficient as we possibly can with taxpayer money; and as a result, several years ago the County closed the jail and outsourced this service saving significant dollars. Just recently, we convened a five- county meeting of 911 providers pursuing the possibility of combining our efforts with an adjoining county to further reduce expense. (This discussion is currently in process.)

There is only so much we can do with expenses before we have to look at the revenue side of the budget. Our county's main source of revenue is a 3/4 cent sales tax (1/2 cent for the general fund and 1/4 cent for law enforcement). At the time the law enforcement tax was passed in 1982, the county's property tax was rolled back to where it currently is a negligible source of revenue.

Recently, we have done some comparisons with surrounding counties regarding sources of revenue. These counties are to the west, Davies and Caldwell, to the south, Carroll, to the east, Linn, and to the north, Grundy. Here are the results of this comparison.

Sales Tax Rate Property Tax Levy
Livingston .75% .0172
Carroll 1.25% .2583
Grundy 1.50% .1732
Linn 2.00% .0675
Davies 2.00% .1188
Caldwell 2.00% .2619

As you can see, there is a huge difference in our sources of revenue. Four of the five counties have twice to nearly three times the sales tax rate as we do. The property tax levy also shows a huge difference with the range of the rates of the surrounding counties being nearly five times to over 15 times as much as our property tax rate.

I have always believed it is very important as an elected official to spend taxpayer money wisely and efficiently. However, the data is showing that our budget constraints are revenue shortfalls. These shortfalls don't allow us to operate in the way we should operate. This is an issue that needs continued study by our Commission and one that will need to be addressed at some point in the future.

Emergency Management Tip of the Month: The change away from daylight savings time is a good time to replace batteries in your smoke detectors.

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