Local property owners can be excused if they start to tense up and their breathing becomes labored when our elected officials start discussing the next fiscal budget or a new project.
Since 2013, local governmental bodies have either considered or passed four measures that would raise property taxes in the area.
In October 2013, the Rapid City Council approved an annual fee paid by property owners to fund a new Stormwater Drainage Utility. The city is now collecting that fee, which ranges from a few dollars a year for private property owners to thousands of dollars for commercial property owners.
In March 2015, the Rapid City Area Schools Board approved an opt-out measure that added $72 in property taxes for every $100,000 of house value, which was later rejected by voters who put it on the ballot.
In August, Pennington County Commission Chairman Lyndell Petersen said he was considering a proposal to raise property taxes by $27 for every $100,000 of house value to pay for work on roads and bridges, rather than support a wheel tax that most counties in the state have adopted. The proposal still lingers as the commission wrestles with its budget.
And now the city wants to increase property taxes by 1.5 percent, which represents about $10 per $100,000 of house value, simply because state law allows it. The increase would raise an estimated $224,000 for a proposed $156 million fiscal 2016 budget, which represents a 6 percent increase in spending from the current fiscal year.
Three city council members Steve Laurenti, John Roberts and Ron Wiefenbach voted against the increase at Wednesday's Legal and Finance Committee meeting. Two others Ritchie Nordstrom and Darla Drew voted for it. The entire council will consider the matter at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the City/School Administration Center.
The biggest problem with the request that is part of Mayor Steve Allender's proposed budget is the money is not earmarked or designated for any particular purpose, meaning it would likely wind up in the General Fund, which represents about 40 percent of the budget.
In opposing the tax hike, Laurenti said the city needs to make a case for the money and show that city officials have looked at other places to find the $224,000 if it is essential to future city operations.
Roberts, who represents Ward 4 on the north side of town, said many of his constituents are on tight budgets and in some cases work at two jobs to make ends meet, not an uncommon situation in a city where the economy has been flat for some time.
We agree that this is not the time for the city to raise property taxes. The city council raised property taxes when it approved the drainage utility fee. In addition, many residents have seen Pennington County increase the valuations of their property in recent years, which amounts to another property tax hike.
And let's not forget that we are all paying higher gas taxes, vehicle excise taxes and drivers' license fees as a result of actions taken by the 2015 Legislature.
If one can call increasing the city's budget by less than 6 percent a sacrifice, we ask the city to do so and spare property owners another tax hike.
Government, after all, isn't the only body dealing with budget constraints. The governed are dealing with them every day as well and their circumstances merit consideration, too.