Polk proposes ½ cent tax cut; Mill Spring/Saluda Fire increasesPublished 5:24pm Friday, May 17, 2013
Budget workshop recessed until today at 5 p.m.
Polk County Commissioners are taking a different approach this year in balancing next year’s budget with the board going line by line last week in an attempt to cut the budget and possibly taxes.
Commissioners met last Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, May 13, 14 and 16 to hear requests from departments and ended with a proposal to cut ½ cent per $100 of valuation off the tax rolls.
With cuts, commissioners ended up bringing the budget to $134,336 to the positive, which would allow the county to give a ½ cent tax cut. One penny in the tax rate equals approximately $263,940.
Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he doesn’t think people will notice a ½ cent decrease one way or another.
“It’s $5 per a $100,000 value (home),” Gasperson said.
A ½ cent tax decrease would mean an approximate $5 savings on a home valued at $100,000, a $10 savings on a home valued at $200,000 and a $15 savings on a home valued at $300,000.
Commissioner chair Michael Gage said he’s not opposed to a half-cent decrease. He said anything to go back to the people.
Commissioner Tom Pack said he’s tried to give a tax decrease for years and years, with commissioner Keith Holbert saying he’s watched boards for years say they couldn’t give a tax cut when it usually turns out they could have.
The board also agreed to increase tax rates for the Mill Spring and Saluda Fire Departments and to grant a 10 percent increase in funding for the Polk County Rescue Squad.
Commissioners began with $442,642 worth of capital requests from departments and narrowed the list to $435,542. Commissioners are considering paying for all capital, or one-time expenses out of its current, approximate $6 million fund balance for next year. The county also considered a 2.5 percent employee increase for next year’s budget, which begins July 1, but decided to cut the expense in half and grant the raises on Jan. 1, 2014 instead of the beginning of the fiscal year.
Commissioners met with its fire departments, the rescue squad and the Foothills Humane Society (FHS) on Thursday, May 16.
Fire Department tax increases
Saluda Fire Chief Shane Bradley presented his department’s budget requesting a one-cent tax increase from 6.5 cents per $100 of valuation to 7.5 cents. Bradley said his department received a grant years ago to help pay for paid employees and it is now time for the department to retain all costs. He said his department has done everything they can to make cuts, including in fuel, out of town training and tightening up everywhere they can. He said last year the grant paid for $21,000 worth of employees.
Gage said even with the increase the Saluda Fire Department will be operating next year with less revenue than this year.
Chris Osborn met with commissioners regarding the Mill Spring Fire Department’s requested budget. Osborn said Mill Spring has been making up revenues by holding fundraisers and applying for grants but grants are slowing down.
Mill Spring fire requested a one-cent tax increase last year but were turned down by the board due to not having a recent audit. The fire department has since done an audit and commissioners are discussing revisiting fire department contracts to incorporate a requirement that departments receive an annual CPA certification, which is less expensive than an audit.
Osborn also spoke of some needs in the Mill Spring Fire Department, including the need to replace two tankers. One tanker, he said, is very small because it was purchased when Lake Adger was developed.
Owens said he was in favor of granting the 1.5-cent tax increase because the one-cent increase was denied last year.
If the proposed budget gets final approval next month, the Mill Spring fire tax will increase from five cents per $100 of valuation to 6.5 cents.
No increases were requested for Harmon Field or the Columbus, Green Creek, Tryon or Sunny View Fire Departments.
The board granted a 10 percent increase in funding for the Polk County Rescue Squad. The county funding for the rescue squad will increase from $63,999 to $70,308.
FHS request denied
Commissioners turned down a request from the FHS.
FHS Executive Director Selena Coffey presented the request to commissioners asking for funding to increase from $97,200 annually to $111,780.
Coffey said in the two years since the contract with the county was negotiated, FHS has not requested an increase, while its operational expenses have increased exponentially and the shelter has seen consistently increasing animal intakes.
Gasperson said he was in favor of the increase, stating that the service is the “bargain of bargains for the county.”
“I think it’s conceivable we’d have to do a two to three cent tax increase to do our own (shelter),” Gasperson said.
After consensus from the remainder of the board, chair Gage said the county will keep the funding the same.
Commissioners recessed the May 16 workshop until today, Monday, May 20 at 5 p.m. During the recessed workshop commissioners are scheduled to discuss the recreation budget, where the board has asked director Patty Aldred to return with costs to run the pool specifically.
Commissioners could consider increases for summer day camp and the pool or adjustments where some users could see increases and other decreases.
Pack said the county needs to look at actual costs of running the services and adjust fees accordingly. For example, Pack said he had problems with how swimming lessons are charged, where currently it may cost $55 for the first child and if the children are in the same household, the other children get lessons for much less per child. Older children’s swim lessons are currently at $55 for the first child, $75 if there are two children and $85 for three children. Water baby lessons cost less than older children due to the number of classes available.
“The more people you have the cheaper per person,” Pack said. “That just doesn’t make any sense. If you have a family with four children, you’re getting a heck of a deal over someone with one child.”
The same discussion occurred over summer day camp fees where for one week one child pays $70, then a family with two children pays $90 per week and a family with three children pays $110 per week.
“I think we need to do a cost study,” Pack said, “not if it’s fair or not. I know if you have more children they need a break, but we need to sit down and do a study and look at the numbers.”
Commissioners began their discussion after seeing that Gibson Park Pool loses about $25,000 annually. The majority of commissioners said they don’t expect the pool to break even or make money but do want a better reflection of actual costs to run the pool.
Interim county manager Marche Pittman suggested to the recreation department that maybe they structure the fees based on 80 percent of the costs knowing the county will absorb 20 percent of the costs.
Commissioner Gasperson said the county needs to look at doing a service. He said many parents are extremely tight on their money and commissioners could look at other services, such as the county recreation park that doesn’t even charge fees.
“I think we need to be realistic here,” Gasperson said.
Owens said the county is just trying to figure out what it costs.
“Just like the rumor got out we’re going to stop the pool and stop recycling,” Owens said. “Let’s find out what it’s costing to do this service and see where we go from there. That’s business.”
On recycling, commissioners had at first discussed possibly charging a fee to drop off recycling at the mobile recycling unit centers due to a $30,000 deficit. Commissioners instead decided to begin on a trial basis sending the mobile recycling unit to Green Greek once every other week instead of weekly in an attempt to save money. The new schedule for Green Creek will likely begin in July.
The proposed budget is also increasing tipping fees at the transfer station. The tipping fees will increase from the current $42 per ton to $43 per ton beginning on July 1 and to $44 per ton beginning on Jan. 1, 2014.
Commissioners will hold a special meeting on May 30 for Pittman to present the budget following changes made last week and any decisions made at today’s meeting.
Look for more articles this week with more details on other department requests for next year’s budget.
Polk County Capital requests for fiscal year 2013-2014
Department Expense Description
Administration $25,595 2013 Ford Explorer-replacement
Finance $1,000 Computer replacement
Courts $1,000 Lighting for district attorney
MIS $35,000 AS400 server replacement
Sheriff $178,500 4 vehicles, K9 equipment, tasers, cameras
Jail $5,000 kitchen equipment
Animal control $2,000 cages, poles, nets
Building inspections $25,595 2013 Ford Explorer 4WD-replacement
EMS $$139,510 Ambulance, cardiac monitor and miscellaneous
Transportation $12,592 3 vans, camera
Rec complex $2,700 5’bushhog, spreader for tractor
DSS $7,050 10 computers/printers/scanner replacement, desk scanner