Polk budget OK despite economy

Published 3:57 pm Friday, May 14, 2010

Despite again predicting $1 million less in sales tax revenue and growth at a standstill, Polk County is planning to get by during this rough economy without a tax increase next fiscal year.
Commissioners have been discussing the upcoming budget this week in detail and while no employee increases are being proposed and two positions are being cut, the county is still planning to run water lines, build a new Department of Social Services (DSS) building and pack away $200,000 for future Lake Adger Dam repairs.
Plans also do not call for the county to use any of its fund balance next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson says the main reason Polk is still in such good financial shape despite the economy is because it has lowered its debt service by paying off two loans early recently. That, coupled with a little bit of growth and spending cuts, has enabled the county to lower its tax rate for this fiscal year following the revaluation and have no increases planned for next fiscal year, which will begin July 1.
“Polk County has held its own the three years Ive been manager for operating expenses,” Whitson said this week. “Weve had a little bit of growth, weve cut spending and weve cut debt service.”
In the last three years, by paying off debt early and not taking on much new debt, Polk has cut its debt from $23 million owed to $16 million. The debts paid off early were on the Womack building, Polk County High School and the countys visitors center building.
But after hearing what the state is proposing in 2011-2012 for school funding, next year could be a different story.
The state is looking at not funding about $750,000 in the 2011-2012 budget year and those needs could fall on local shoulders.
Whitson says that is the year that the bad economy could hit Polk Countys budget and depending on what the state decides then, Polk may have to use fund balance for the schools.
“My prediction is well have to pull a little out of fund balance because of the state and the school system,” Whitson said.
The school system is using $750,000 worth of stimulus money for the current needs, but that money will end in 2011-2012. Polk County government also received some stimulus money this fiscal year to fund an additional food stamp worker at DSS, but the county will receive less money from the state for the DSS foster program, which the county will have to fund between $50,000 and $100,000 due to the state shortfall.
Polk commissioners held a work session on Monday and went over needs with its departments.
The county is planning on keeping the same 52 cents per $100 of valuation property tax rate. The proposed budget is for $27,495,439, which is a 0.46 percent decrease from the current year budget. The countys general fund is proposed at 4.27 percent less than the current year at $21,025,462.
Major expenditures for the county next fiscal year include budgeting $150,000 for architectural services for a new DSS building and another $1,628,000 to finance the DSS building construction.
Another $200,000 is budgeted to go into reserves for future maintenance and repairs of the Lake Adger Dam. The county put $10,000 away this year for future dam repairs.
The county is also planning to handle some jail upgrades, including new plumbing and fixtures. The county is budgeting $110,000 for the jail improvements.
Polk is also planning to purchase a new ambulance for the emergency medical services and two patrol cars and an animal control truck for the sheriffs office.
Next years budget will also include a 20 percent increase in health insurance premiums that equals about a $173,000 increase. Retirement premiums also increased, which means another $103,000 increase.
Polk is not including in next years budget employee raises or Christmas bonuses for the second year in a row.
The countys economic development director position was also deleted from next years budget, and the county will not fill a vacant custodial position. Those two positions will save the county approximately $96,000 with $65,000 from the EDC position and $31,000 for the custodial position.
Commissioners plan to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget during a special meeting scheduled for June 14. Commissioners plan to adopt the budget ordinance and tax levy during their June 21 regular meeting.

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