New fees, tax hikes in the cards

Douglas County residents could see the implementation of a new business license fee, utility operator fee or quarter-cent sales tax. Those were three of the proposals brought forward Wednesday as commissioners struggled to resolve budget shortages for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Recommendations will be brought to the board in either May or June, according to Commissioner Jim Baushke.

Preliminary figures indicate Douglas County revenues have dropped $2.3 million for the upcoming fiscal year, from $153.4 million for 2006-07 to $151.1 million for fiscal 2007-08, according to figures from the county's preliminary budget.

The budget was very tight last year and now, commissioners are in a position that will require drastic action, Baushke said.

"We're in this predicament because we haven't had any tax increases over the past 10 years. Now, we're in trouble," he said. "We're going to do the best we can with minimal impact, but it's going to get nasty before it's over.

"Whatever we do, there will be a problem in getting it implemented by first of fiscal year," he said. "We could possibly get something moving by September or October, and bridge the gap with reserves until then."

Implementation of a business license fee, which would affect fewer residents and grow with the community, would provide net revenues of between $600,000 to $800,000 and a 1 percent utility operator fee would mean another $800,000 for Douglas County coffers each year, said County Manager Dan Holler.

Commission approval of a quarter-cent sales tax, which is already allowed by state law, is currently restricted and is limited to construction of infrastructure involving water, sewer or trash. Legislation is being considered to expand those restricted uses to include other county entities, like recreation, judicial and public safety, Holler said.

A fourth fee, 25 cents per phone line and cell phone, is being considered to generate funding for Douglas County's 911program, Holler said.

"We will be bringing back the information on these fees and recommended budget cuts, then come back with a final number," he said. "We anticipated a flattening of revenues but not a decline. That made this year tough."

Personnel costs, which have risen dramatically in recent years, consume 76 percent of Douglas County's general fund expenditures.

Both senior services and social services, to name just two, have been experienced fiscal strains due primarily to the increased demand and cutting expenditures in most cases is not a viable option, according to county officials.

A 7.6 percent decrease in sales tax through January 2007 was partially responsible for the $1.8 million deficit in Douglas County's general fund, Holler told county officials and a few residents Tuesday.

Total occupancy, or room taxes, have declined substantially since revenues peaked at $730,000. That source is expected to generate $645,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.

"We also saw a shift of room tax revenues into promotion in 1997," said County Manager Dan Holler. "We were able to get a quarter-cent sales tax to replace that, but that leaves us even more reliant on sales tax dollars."

In fiscal 2006-07, a transfer of $128,000 from the general fund was required to meet the requirements of the room tax fund and $280,000 for social services. Another $100,000 was siphoned off for the DART system and $32,000 for senior center operations, according to information from county officials.

"State law requires us to balance the budget," Holler said. "We can't deficit spend and we had to use these reserves to do so. We can't continue at that level, or we will have real problems in the future."

Susie Vasquez can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 211.


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