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Pennington County property owners are one step closer to some tax relief. 

The Pennington County Board of Commissioners' directive was to make a 1.97 percent tax burden cut. On Tuesday morning, the board held a final hearing on the provisional budget for the 2019 fiscal year, meant to give department heads a chance to weigh in on potential budget cuts. George Ferebee was the only commissioner not in attendance.

Commissioners issued the directive for each department to make a 1.97 percent decrease in the revenue that comes from tax dollars. That is most of the departments, though not all. Pennington County Auditor-elect Cindy Mohler said a couple of departments, such as the Auditor's Office and the Register of Deeds, also have outside sources of revenue. Most departments, however, are dependent on tax dollars. 

If approved, the cuts will allow the county to meet its goal of raising its reserves to 19 percent of next year's budget and to lower the mill levy, or property tax rate.  

In the provisional budget, Mohler said the county would be able to reduce the mill levy by about $3.80 per $100,000 of valuation. Since property taxes are based on valuation, or assessment, that doesn't necessarily mean a property owner's taxes will go down — but Commissioner Ron Buskerud said it does "give the taxpayers a little break."

Few spoke during the fifth and final budget hearing, which lasted less than 20 minutes. Most of the board's interaction was with Mike Kuhl, the county's director of building and grounds. Commissioner Ron Buskerud asked Kuhl if a list of capital projects comprises "needs" or "wants." Kuhl said he is still determining which items are most critical, but noted that some of the items pointed out, like stainless steel sinks and toilets for the county jail, are a necessity.

"We don't replace anything unless it's not serviceable anymore," he said. 

Annette Brant, with the Treasurer's Office, briefly told commissioners that everything her office does is mandated by law, meaning that cuts to services would be cuts to mandated services. And Mark Schock, with the Pennington County Highway Department, reminded commissioners that his department took a 20 percent budget reduction in the 2016 fiscal year that has never returned, straining the department's ability to maintain infrastructure.

"I don't think we can afford to continue to take cuts on the highway budget," he said. 

Board chair Lloyd LaCroix said the commission would need to discuss that throughout the year. He also thanked the various department members in attendance for their work to meet the budget directive. 

"I know making cuts is not an easy thing," LaCroix said. "You guys worked hard on this and I appreciate it."

There was no formal action taken on the provisional budget, which will be voted on during the commission's July 17 regular meeting. 

According to state law, county boards must adopt a provisional budget for the following fiscal year between July 15 and 30. 

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— This story has been updated to correct Cindy Mohler's title to auditor-elect. Julie Pearson is the auditor. Mohler's term begins in March 2019.

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