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Circuit Breakers Take it Easy on Monroe County

The Legislative Services Agency (LSA) released new estimates for how property tax caps passed by last year’s state legislature will affect each county in the state.

The economy has changed dramatically since the LSA last crunched the numbers for how new property tax caps of one percent for homeowners, two percent for businesses and three percent for rental properties will affect local governments.

“Monroe County is in pretty good shape compared to other counties our size or bigger,” said Monroe County Assessor Judy Sharp.

Sharp said that’s because Monroe County sports a lower tax rate than other counties and a smaller debt, among other factors. However, even though the LSA’s estimates are detailed, she said, there’s no way to tell if the numbers will actually turn out to be accurate.

“We all need to take a deep breath and not do anything for about a year and let’s really see. Let’s just not make assumptions and guesstimates of things. Let’s wait for a year and see what really happens,” Sharp said.

The LSA said some counties, particularly metropolitan areas, will suffer losses in the millions. But the same data set shows Monroe County could lose as little as $47,000 when the caps are fully implemented in 2010.

“I mean $47,000 is still more than anybody in my office makes, besides me. But still, when you put it in perspective of the millions and millions and millions of dollars it takes to run county government, it’s probably a moot point,” she said.

Diane Powers of the LSA said her office computes new numbers for each county each time the legislature requests it. Since legislators are prioritizing the debate on whether to add property tax caps to the state’s Constitution during year’s session, Powers said updated data is valuable to politicians arguing their respective cases on the issue. Sharp said writing the caps into the state’s constitutional would be premature, as no one is quite sure how local governments will be able to cope with such large cuts in revenue, in some cases, in so little time.

“We run around and think we know what we’re doing without really great data, said Sharp, and we don’t have any data yet. We won’t until this year is over.”

Sharp says local governments can’t afford to lose to revenue…any revenue. She said circuit breakers are hitting counties and cities hard at a bad time, when their income tax revenue bases are shrinking in the face of a faltering economy.

“County government is pretty lean as it is so don’t know what people are going to say. Well, if you say, ‘Well, what about schools? Don’t touch my schools.’ Well, that’s part of government.’ ‘Well, what about police and fire? Oh, you can’t [touch] that either.’ Well, what do you want us to touch?”

The Monroe County Council and County Commissioners brought in an independent financial advisor last year to provide property tax estimates with the caps in place. Sharp said those results closely matched results of the LSA at the time.

Daniel Robison

Daniel started as WFIU's Assistant News Director in July 2008. He graduated with a B.A. in history in 2007 and earned an M.A. in journalism two years later. Daniel hosts Ask the Mayor weekly and the occasional Noon Edition. He also hosts Morning Edition on Thursdays, sleepily. Daniel's beats include everything News Director Stan Jastrzebski wants him to cover. And it feels strange to type biography of myself in the third person like this. So that's that.

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