By AJ Taylor and Angela Nelson
During a period of enormous inflation, sizeable increases in property assessment values, and significant decline in economic activity, Hancock County officials believe now is the time to spend. Hancock County is planning communications and building improvements at a cost to its taxpayers of $7,412,500. After already bonding to raise taxes earlier this year at a total of $2.255 million at nearly 1.5 percent interest, Hancock County is looking to increase property taxes once again at a cost of $2.95 million and nearly 4.5 interest. Click here for PDF of Projects
In addition, taxpayer dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act have been appropriated to pay for a new HVAC system yet to be installed at a price tag of $2,212,500. Following a study performed by MODUS Engineering, the board elected without voter approval to use taxpayer ARPA funds to replace a 45 year old HVAC system in the law enforcement center built in 1977 and a 23 year old HVAC system in the courthouse. Hancock County Supervisor Jerry Tlach explains how the county intends to use the ARPA funds.
(Click on Covid Money audio file below of Supervisor Jerry Tlach)
According to the National Association of Counties (NACO), that $2.2 million could have been divvied out to provide households and small businesses with assistance with items such as rent, mortgages and utilities. The taxpayers were not privy to this decision, as no person from the public was asked to serve on the appropriations committee.
The initial $2.25 million bond covers a new communications tower (estimated at $1.524 million), northwest tower roof replacement (at $110,000), and modern glass vestibule and jewel box entrance on the courthouse (estimated at $565,000). This tax increase was determined by the Hancock County Board of Supervisors during a public hearing without voter approval. Supervisor Tlach explains that initially they had set aside $300,000 for the future emergency communications tower, but then decided bonding would be more appropriate in order to fast-track the project.
(Click on EMS Tower audio file below of Supervisor Jerry Tlach)
A less expensive option was proposed by taxpayer Comm 1 to rent space from an existing tower for $18,000 per year, but the board approved the $1.524 million option with Chicago-based Motorola instead.
The restoration part of the project estimated to cost nearly $3 million at nearly 4.5 percent interest, which includes courthouse exterior renovations, drainage and parking lot improvements, is the only portion that voters have the power on November 8th to decide as they are considered non-essential corporate purpose. Hancock County’s financial advisor Maggie Burger of Speer Financial presents the numbers.
(Click on Ballot Referendum audio file below of Maggie Burger - Speer Financial)
Click here to see the results from a Facebook poll regarding the economic outlook and how much taxpayers say they can afford right now. Facebook poll on Renovations
Other expenditures over the last few years for Hancock County have included:
- Purchase of Land for Future County Maintenance Shed – ($200,000)
- Fiscal Year 2021/2022/2023 Elected County Officials’ Raises – ($97,046 or 17 percent increase over the last few years) The 2022 average elected official salary for Hancock County is $71,816.63, while according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, the median household income for Hancock County is $61,957 and individual per capita income for Hancock County is $31,178.
- New Courthouse Flooring and Moving Expenses – ($64,000)
- Generator Purchase – ($58,822 + unknown electrical work & installation expenses)
- Engineering/Architectural/Financial Consulting Fees for all courthouse projects and to design plans for county shed – (unknown amount)
- Treasurer’s Office/Driver’s License Room Remodel – (unknown amount)
- Basement Bathroom Remodels – (unknown amount)
And still on the county’s radar: Just last November during the start of this economic crisis (a period of less inflation), voters said no to a $4.6 million bond referendum, of which Hancock County Engineer Jeremy Purvis is hoping to build a new secondary roads maintenance facility in Britt. Construction costs at that time were estimated at a total of $5,210,000.