Polk County Manager proposes ‘difficult’ budget; hearing Monday night

Published 4:21 pm Monday, June 8, 2009

The growth factor reflects the average annual increase in property tax revenue from improvements such as new lots and buildings since the last revaluation in 2001.

Whitson says without the growth rate, he could have been faced with either cutting services, raising the estimated tax collection rate, taking it out of fund balance or laying off employees.

&dquo;We could cut services and lay employees off,&dquo; Whitson says. &dquo;That will work this year but we will get hit hard next year when we have to pay the Employment Security Commission for the unemployment benefits for the employees laid off. We would have to lay off 15-20 employees and we would have to do away with some departments. Which departments is the county willing to do without?&dquo;

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By taking money out of fund balance, Whitson explains that at some point fund balance will run out just as someone&squo;s savings would run out if they depended on that to buy gasoline and pay bills. Polk County used $2.5 million to balance the current year budget in order to help purchase Lake Adger and to run county water lines.

&dquo;There is not much left to cut if we want to provide the same services,&dquo; says Whitson.

Whitson says without using the growth rate, Polk would also have to cut the school system&squo;s budget, which the state has already done.

&dquo;Every percent that we cut the school budget would be about equal to one teaching position,&dquo; said Whitson. &dquo;This is the most difficult budget I have ever proposed. And there is a possibility that next year&squo;s could be more challenging.&dquo;

Whitson says the proposed budget will keep Polk County financially sound.

Even with the county proposing three cents higher than revenue neutral with the growth rate factor in, that doesn&squo;t necessarily mean everyone&squo;s taxes will increase this July. Since this year was a revaluation, property owners whose property value increased more than the county&squo;s average of 34.62 percent will see an increase. Property owners whose property increased less than the average or didn&squo;t increase at all, will see a property tax decrease in July.

All Polk County vehicle owners will see a decrease this year in vehicle tax, because the vehicle tax rate is dropping.

The county will have to approve a budget prior to June 30, with the new budget year beginning July 1.