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The Lancaster County Board on Tuesday adopted an almost unchanged budget built with a higher property tax rate for the next fiscal year.

The $200 million budget doesn't add new employees, but includes a $3 million infusion into road and bridge improvements from the general fund to reopen bridges damaged by flooding and to complete more deferred maintenance.

The budget draws $80 million in revenue from property taxes, with the owner of an average $184,800 home paying $520 to the county in the coming fiscal year.

The levy change — essentially a 2.6% increase — will add about $14 in support of county government onto the property tax bill for a $184,800 home. That increase doesn't account for properties where the valuation has changed.

The county's new tax levy, 28.1576 cents per $100 of assessed value, will be formally set following a vote next month.

Annually, Lancaster County pulls in about 13% of a city property owner's tax payment, compared with the city of Lincoln (16%) and Lincoln Public Schools (61%). It's the only one of the three raising its levy to fund its budget this cycle, though the city and LPS have been criticized for taking a windfall of property taxes that resulted from a revaluation despite keeping their tax rates essentially flat. 

The lone person to testify at the county budget hearing was Lincoln Independent Business Association representative Dustin Antonello, who applauded the increased funding of the County Engineering Department. 

But Antonello criticized how the county manipulated tax rates to fund its budget, cutting the Railroad Transportation Safety District levy and moving that taxing authority to its own coffers.

Such a funding decrease could threaten a long-proposed project for improvements at 33rd Street and Cornhusker Highway, he said.

Commissioner Deb Schorr, who chairs the RTSD, has said she's been assured this levy change won't threaten that expensive project's viability. Commissioners said they intend to restore the RTSD levy to its current rate in the future.

The vote on the budget disappointed County Engineer Pam Dingman. 

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Just before Tuesday's vote, Commissioner Rick Vest moved that members adopt the budget with the understanding that the $3 million for roads and bridges is a one-time-only allocation.

"In light of the record size of this increase, I feel that this board should have freedom in future budgets to evaluate the needs on a year-by-year basis," the first-term commissioner said. 

After the meeting, Vest said he's concerned about future funding problems such as the specter of opening a new wing of the jail because of the rising population. 

Projections show that would mean hiring seven more employees, he said.

Dingman had concerns her department isn't receiving the resources to tackle a $15 million gap between the department's critical needs and money available for that work.

She typically asks the commissioners to fund between 1% and 2% of those needs, she said

"The budget passed by the commissioners today funds less than 1% of the county's critical infrastructure needs," Dingman said in a statement.

"I can only assume that Commissioner Vest’s motion to not guarantee equivalent funding next year means that Lancaster County’s Engineering Department will receive less funding in the future,” she said.

What's coming from your wallet in the Lincoln area

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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