Continuing in their efforts to provide citizens greater clarity in understanding property taxes, the Jasper County Board of Supervisors on April 25 discussed the possibility of adding a new pie graph to the tax distribution tab of its GIS website to show how much money goes into each service.
In a work session, supervisors chairman Brandon Talsma made it clear that the infographic be succinct and easy to comprehend. With so many departments in Jasper County, he suggested it would be unwise to include them all in the graph and would only confuse residents even more.
Schneider Corporation, which operates the county’s GIS software known as Beacon, requested the board send information they wanted to include on the tax distribution page before deciding if it was even feasible to begin with. But Talsma said Schneider Corporation seemed optimistic it could do it.
Documents handed out to the supervisors by auditor’s office staff showed the full pie graph of the county’s budget and how $38 million is spent across all of the departments and services. The two departments that receive the most amount of money by far is the secondary roads department and the sheriff’s office.
“Roads and law enforcement are big enough portions of our budget, and they’re important issues that most people connect with. So those two areas I think we can leave as two of the pieces of the puzzle,” Talsma said, noting that other portions of the budget, like the supervisors, might need to be recategorized.
With more than $4 million classified under the supervisors’ budget, Talsma pointed out that it does not adequately describe their funding sources as it is used for a variety of things. It could also be misconstrued and lead some citizens to believe the three supervisors get millions of dollars to themselves.
But this is not the case. The supervisors do have salaries of about $40,000 each, but their budget allows more flexible spending amongst other entities and projects related to county business. Talsma also noted some offices do not take as large a piece of the “pie” as others and speculated what to do with them, too.
“We need to find ways to categorize the information that’s sitting in front of us into five or six big areas to add a little bit more detail here, but not so much that it’s getting lost,” Talsma said. “(Schneider) said this is possible, but they agree (the pie graph listing all the departments) is too much. We need to break it down.”
So in addition to secondary roads and law enforcement and conservation as standalone departments, the supervisors consolidated other departments into general county services and specialty county services.
COUNTY IS MAKING OTHER TRANSPARENCY MEASURES
Earlier in April the county board of supervisors held another work session to discuss the possibility of adding another document to tax statements that would show a diagram of the property tax distribution among the county, the city and the school district for each individual taxpayer.
The information that would be included on the mailer also comes from Beacon, and it is currently available to citizens.
By looking up their individual properties on Beacon, citizens can click on the “Tax Estimator & Forms” tab and find their estimated property taxes, a sales questionnaire, data corrections and tax distribution, the latter of which displays the information in a pie graph.
Jasper County Treasurer Doug Bishop and his office would be assisting with the mailers, which would be received as a completely separate document. The next tax statements will be sent in August. Although there will still be people who will complain about their property taxes to the county, Talsma said the data is helpful.
“We’re never going to get 100 percent of it, but I’d like to try and take this next step to try and get more information disseminated and hopefully alleviate some of your guys’ issues, some of our issues,” Talsma said to Bishop at the past meeting. “We all deal with it when the tax statements come in the mail.”