By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer

TOWN OF LEE — Some town residents are wondering why their county property tax payments for this year are higher than 2011, after the town in October announced plans to foot the bill for the increase.

The reason is that the town’s commitment of funding to handle the tax levy hike wound up covering about half of it once final calculations were made, explained Supervisor John Urtz.

As a result, residents on average are seeing "about a 1 percent increase in this...payment" for county taxes, instead of the county’s overall 2 percent property tax levy increase, said Urtz. Payments are due at the end of January.

The Town Board in October had approved a motion to cover the increase pending confirmation of available funding. Urtz said "we committed to $40,000" which was available "in our contingency account" in the 2011 budget, noting that a similar payment of about $40,000 two years ago had covered the entire 2010 county property tax increase in Lee.

However, Urtz said that after sending the payment to the county at the start of December, he later learned the 2012 increase would be about $80,000. The town had not sought to cover another increase that occurred for 2011 county taxes, and Urtz said the total levy increase since the 2010 bill was about $119,000.

"Two years ago" the approximately $40,000 payment had covered the full increase, but "this time it didn’t," Urtz commented. Asked whether the town could have provided additional funding, he cited the need to "work within the parameters of the town budget...our appropriation for that year."

Lee has had no town taxes for its general fund or highway fund for the past 30 years. The town’s 2012 budget is about $2.79 million, while its surpluses/reserves in October were estimated at $2.1 million for the general fund and $800,000 for the water district.

Urtz said he has "had a couple" of residents inquire about the higher county tax payments, and "we try to explain it to people that ask the question." While residents are paying more, the approximately 1 percent hike is "better than 2 percent," he remarked.

Some residents’ payments could rise by slightly more than 1 percent depending on equalization rate adjustments relating to property assessments and market values, Urtz said. Lee’s 2012 rate for county taxes is about $205 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, according to the billing.