Douglas County’s budget for 2021-22 will keep the property tax rate the same while increasing general fund spending by 5% over this year.
The budget, approved Tuesday by the Douglas County Board, totals $515 million. That includes $55.5 million from the recent federal coronavirus relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act. The County Board has not decided how to distribute and spend the relief money, so that spending is not detailed in the budget.
The County Board voted 6-0 to approve the budget, with Mike Boyle absent because of illness.
The general fund portion of the budget is $230.5 million, up from the current $219.6 million. The main increases came in the Health Department and corrections, prosecutions, public defense and sheriff’s costs, Douglas County Finance Director Joe Lorenz said.
That’s partly from the pandemic, but the criminal justice-related increases stem more from growing criminal caseloads and numbers of people locked up in the jail, Lorenz said.
The county is not trimming its tax rate like Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert is proposing to do with the city’s budget, in part because of a difference in how the two government subdivisions are funded.
The new federal coronavirus relief funding expressly cannot be used to provide tax relief, Lorenz said. But it can be used to offset lost tax revenue, such as the City of Omaha’s restaurant and sales taxes. The county doesn’t have those tax sources, only property taxes.
However, taxpayers may be spared an expected future Douglas County tax increase to help repay debt for the county’s new justice center, under construction, Lorenz said. The county raised its tax rate in 2019 for that purpose, and had expected to need to do so again in 2023.
“Things look pretty good so we don’t think a further increase to fund the justice center is going to be needed,” Lorenz said.
The budget would keep the tax rate at just over 29.5 cents per $100 in valuation, although the rate won’t be set in stone until August, after final valuations are certified. That would mean the owner of a house valued at $150,000 in Douglas County would pay $443 for the county’s share of their property taxes.
County taxes are a relatively small portion, about 13%, of Douglas County property taxpayers’ overall bill; most of their property taxes go to other local government subdivisions.