Winneshiek County proposes $1 per thousand levy increase, public hearing March 25

By Zach Jensen,

Property taxes in Winneshiek County are increasing by $1 per thousand dollars of valuation primarily due to a couple big-ticket expenses the county has incurred.

According to the public hearing notice on the county’s proposed property tax levy, which is published in today’s edition of the Public Opinion, the current year’s certified property tax, for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023/2024 is $6.79 per $1,000 of valuation, and the budget year effective tax for FY 2024/2025 is $6.72453 per thousand. If approved, the budget year’s proposed tax for FY 2024/2025 will be $7.72 per $1,000 of valuation.

Winneshiek County Auditor Ben Steines said the primary cause for the $1 levy increase is the cost of the new emergency services radio system and related towers.

“The biggest contributing factor is the payment for the construction of the 911 communications tower,” Steines said. “We had a $500,000 payment last summer, and then we have $900,000 a year for three years.”

Steines said that due to technological changes, many Iowa counties are having to upgrade their 911 communications systems. 

“Because of our topography, we have a lot of areas where emergency services couldn’t radio back to the dispatcher, because there wasn’t a signal,” Steines said. “As an example, a few years ago, there was an accident where a car was in a ditch on the Bluffton Road, and our deputy had to walk three quarters of a mile up a hill to radio in to have them send an ambulance to rescue the person in the car wreck.” 

But, whereas most counties typically do bond issues to pay for the new systems, which usually cost millions of dollars, Winneshiek County opted to take advantage of an option to make interest-free payments over time, because, as Steines said, it’s cheaper for the taxpayers that way. 

“This way, we don’t have to pay interest,” the auditor said. “And, there are fees with bond issues, like legal fees, and you have to pay an outside consultant. So, it’s cheaper if we just pay for it.”

The new 911 system isn’t the only high-dollar expense the county has taken on. Earlier this month, the county also purchased the Spectrum Building on Washington Street in Decorah, now named the Winneshiek County Community Services building. The county is paying $250,000 down on that property until the total purchase price is paid off. 

The public hearing on the proposed tax levy will be held Monday, March 25, at 11 a.m., in the courthouse annex.

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