Making Tax Relief Priority

Taxpayers should reap some of the benefits of higher property values, Marshall County commissioners agreed this week. To that end, commissioners voted to reduce property tax rates.

No one will strike it rich because of the change, to be sure. Most property owners will see just a few dollars’ reduction in their tax bills.

But that is not the point. Instead, it is that commissioners did the right thing for taxpayers. Offered an opportunity to grant them some relief, commissioners took it.

Breaks for taxpayers are possible because, as was reported earlier this year, the value of taxable property in the county increased by nearly $278 million last year. That means taxing bodies can lower levy rates while generating the same amount of revenue they have in the past. In effect, the tax burden is borne by a wider base.

In large measure because of the gas drilling boom, the county’s finances are in excellent condition. Even with the vote to give property owners some relief, county government revenue is expected to increase by about 5.5 percent next year. That will enable commissioners to maintain a high level of county services, while granting employees modest pay increases.

But while Marshall County commissioners have agreed to, in effect, spread some of the wealth around, the county board of education has no such plan. Board members agreed earlier this month to keep property tax levy rates at current levels.

That means the school board will rake in an estimated $2.3 million in new revenue next year. School officials say the money is needed.

Many taxpayers need help, too. Not all are benefitting from the drilling boom; in February, the county’s unemployment rate stood at 10.3 percent.

County commissioners did the right thing this week in remembering the taxpayers who support local government. School officials should take an objective look at how much money they really need for the coming year, with the goal of reducing levy rates.