Growth factor PDF E-mail

Property valuations in Hamilton County jumped a staggering 21 percent in 2013, setting the stage for an interesting series of budget discussions amongst all local taxing entities.
Hamilton County Assessor Pat Sandberg certified the 2013 valuations this week, penciling in a whopping $2.21 billion for the final tally. That’s up from $1.74 billion a year ago and far more than double the $909 million sum reported just a decade ago. (See related story in this week’s edition.)

Sandberg and her staff have been crunching a lot of numbers in recent weeks as they prepared this year’s valuation report. One number that stands out, in our view, is $72.8 million, representing the value of new growth. That’s a whole lot of brick, mortar, drywall and pivot systems purchased in just one year.

There is a significant difference, obviously, between new growth and increased valuation. On that note, it is encouraging to see so much investment in new businesses, single-family dwellings and ag-related equipment. That is clearly not a universal trend across the country.

In Hamilton County we’ve seen new and expanded business projects at Syngenta Seeds, Casey’s General Store, Hamilton Sales & Service, T.O. Haas, Giltner State Bank, Aurora Cooperative and others. Add to that approximately 168 new and used pivot systems and you get a relatively healthy snapshot of our local economy.

The new property valuations are also a critical piece in a budgeting process set to unfold across the county. Administrators and board members at various taxing entities, including the city, county and area schools, are now busy plugging in their respective valuation totals and will soon set their own individual levies.

In theory, a 21 percent increase in valuation should provide an opportunity for those taxing entities to lower their levies. Historically, however, that’s not what we’ve seen happen. Just last year, for example, total valuations jumped 11 percent, though many individual levies were flat or up slightly. That translates to higher taxes and more spending.

Local citizens don’t seem overly concerned with this trend, based on the limited amount of input and feedback shared during past public budget hearings. We also recognize how challenging it is to deal with increased health care premiums, technology upgrades, etc. Nonetheless, we are concerned with the sustainability of such increased spending, particularly when the lion’s share of the tax load falls on the ag sector’s shoulders.

Hamilton County is fortunate to record such significant new investment year in and year out, though taxing entities should avoid the temptation to bank heavily on continued valuation growth.

Kurt Johnson

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