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Minnehaha County Considers Opt-Out

July 11, 2012, 6:07 PM by Brady Mallory

Minnehaha County Considers Opt-Out
MINNEHAHA COUNTY -

Opting out of the state property tax freeze is one way the Minnehaha County Commission could fill part of a gap in next year's budget. 

The county is facing a $3.2 million deficit in the general fund and the proposed opt-out could raise $2 million.

"It's important we maintain our community," Robin Tobin said outside of her home.

While the county tries to maintain itself, an opt-out could mean $25 more per year in property tax for the owner of a $150,000 house.  If it passes, Tobin will have more responsibility beyond her front yard.  How does she feel about that?

"I think that's okay," Tobin, who has lived in her house in Sioux Falls for 30 years, said.

According to County Commission Chairman Dick Kelly, an increase in crime over the last year brings greater need for public safety.  The Minnehaha County state's attorney's office has had 5,396 criminal cases this year, that's up more than 608 from last year.  This means public safety departments, like the state's attorney's office, jail and sheriff's office, need more money.

"We don't have any other places we get income from, like a sales tax, to keep up with the times," Kelly said.

The last opt-out was in 2006 when the commission approved a $1.6 million opt-out to help fill a nearly $2 million gap in its 2007 budget.  If passed for 2013, this one would be the county's fifth and largest.

"I don't like them. I don't like to raise taxes. I'm convinced we're going to have to do something," Kelly said.

Even though not everyone likes the idea of higher taxes, Tobin said a safe community is worth it.

"When they really need an emergency person, everybody wants them right there and at that time.  If they're not adequately staffed or trained and stuff, everybody complains and stuff," Tobin said.

Kelly said the commission will decide on July 13 if it will pursue an opt-out and said it could be less than $2 million.  Even if it passes, the county still faces cuts and consolidations.

The commission is considering a budget of about $66.8 million budget.  Some of the biggest requests for increases come from the jail for about $600,000 and $400,000 in computer and technology updates.

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