The value of property in Winneshiek County has topped $1 billion, which is a big reason for a decrease in property tax rates.

"It's the first time it's been over a billion," Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Logsdon said after Monday's public hearing on the county's 2013/14 fiscal budget.

The budget is based on a total property valuation of $1,028,801,943, up 4 percent from $986,955,912 for the current fiscal year.

"Good news - property taxes are going down," Logsdon said during the five-minute hearing. There were no comments from the public, and it was attended mainly by county department heads.

The new budget lowers the tax rate for rural residents 30 cents from $8.80 per $1,000 of assessed value to $8.50 per $1,000, and it lowers the rate for property in incorporated areas (cities) 53 cents from $7.08 per $1,000 of assessed value to $6.55.

A total of $7,909,968 in property taxes will be collected by the county next fiscal year, compared to $8,009,858 this year.

The supervisors unanimously approved the budget. They also unanimously approved the recommendations of the Winneshiek County Compensation Board, which called for zero to 4.5 percent raises for the county's elected officials.

The Board met in December and recommended 2.5 percent raises for the auditor, sheriff and treasurer; 3 percent for the recorder; 4.5 percent for the county attorney; and no raises for the supervisors.

The current salaries and raises approved by the supervisors are: supervisors, $28,099, $0; Auditor Ben Steines, $48,775, $1,219; Treasurer Wayne Walter, $49,152, $1,228; County Attorney Andy Van Der Maaten, $56,877, $2,559; Sheriff Lee Bohr, $63,878, $1,596; and Recorder Teresa Bockman, $47,890, $1,436.

Four supervisors were new to office in January. They are Dean Thompson, Floyd Ashbacher, Dennis Karlsbroten and Mark Kuhn. Logsdon was the only supervisor who was re-elected in November.

The supervisors can approve the raises as recommended or reduce them all by the same percentage.  Members of the Compensation Board are: Dennis Hovden, Ridgeway, chair; Jim Burns, Decorah, vice chair; Al Etteldorf, Decorah; Roger Goulson, Decorah; Richard Tenneson, Decorah; Vic Pickney, Decorah; and Ron Stoskopf, Decorah.

Mental health

In addition to the increase in property valuations, Logsdon said the regionalization of mental health services also is contributing to the decrease in property taxes.

"Therefore we were able to drop our mental-health levy and tax asking by a substantial amount," Logsdon said.

In a discussion following the budget hearing, the supervisors reviewed the health insurance rates for county employees for next fiscal year.

Currently, the county pays $640 per employee per month, and that will increase to $655 per employee per month starting July 1.

Karlsbroten asked if the rates would be reviewed next year, and Logsdon responded they would be.

The supervisors thanked Auditor Ben Steines for his work in preparing the new budget.