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Property tax increase unlikely as 2 commissioners reject opt-out

County struggling to slash $3 million from 2012 budget

In an effort to cut next year's budget, the Minnehaha County Commission has identified these possible options.
Pay cuts: $975,929
Part-time and overtime cuts: $62,924
Sheriff's office savings: $15,590
State's attorney savings: $40,642
Department cuts - operating expenses: $535,869
Other budgets: $36,630
External organizations: $22,826
Hiring freeze: $417,003
Retirements: $240,743
Total: $2,229,224
While Minnehaha County commissioners have considered opting out of the state's property tax freeze as a way to maintain cash flow, it's unlikely to happen.
Commissioners Dick Kelly and John Pekas said Tuesday morning they would not support an opt-out, effectively killing the option, which requires approval from at least four of the five commissioners.
At issue is a 2012 budget that must be $3 million less than this year's to ensure adequate cash flow.
County Auditor Bob Litz told commissioners Tuesday that the county might free up some money by refunding or refinancing existing bonds. The commission authorized Litz to put together some scenarios for review by the end of the month.
Shifting the burden to the future is a common strategy, according to Kenneth Blanchard, professor of political science at Northern State University in Aberdeen.
There are not a lot of options in tough economic times, he said.
"You have a constituency who wants services to stay where they are or get better. At the same time, nobody wants to pay for them. They want their taxes to stay where they are or decrease.
"The temptation is to try and put it off. ... Other than that, all you can do is cut services and raise fees," he said.
Litz said the county is prohibited by law from raising some fees. Other fees, such as vehicle registrations, were increased earlier this year by the Legislature.
County commissioners have been reviewing next year's budget for weeks and have identified $2.2 million in cuts to the general fund, including a 5 percent cut in county employee wages. Other cuts would be in expenses, overtime, part-time positions and external organizations.
That's still not enough, said county administrator Ken McFarland. Commissioners need to find an additional $760,000 in cuts.
Commissioner Jeff Barth, who supports the idea of an opt-out, said the county can't cut any more from the budget without compromising essential services.
Pekas said that he thinks the public would be offended if the county raised taxes when money could be raised through refinancing.