Polk adopts manager’s budget

Published 5:16 pm Friday, June 24, 2011

Polk County commissioners could not come to a unanimous agreement, nor could they reach a compromise between the two budget versions proposed for fiscal year 2011-12.
They voted 3-2 on Monday, June 20 to approve Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson’s budget, which includes no tax increase.
Commissioners Ray Gasperson, Renée McDermott and Cindy Walker voted in favor of the manager’s budget, and commissioners Ted Owens and Tom Pack voted against it.
Owens made a motion to amend the manager’s budget, incorporating Pack’s proposals into it, but the motion failed.
Pack had submitted recommendations that included a 1.14 cent tax decrease, leaving employee deductibles at the current $500 and giving some sheriff’s office and communication employees raises, among other recommendations.
The budget approved leaves the property tax rate at 52 cents per $100 of valuation.
Commissioners continued to disagree on which budget proposal was best on Monday. Owens and Pack said the county continues to save money and contribute to its fund balance and therefore should give residents a tax break.
Gasperson, McDermott and Walker said Pack’s proposal is not sustainable and given the economy, the county should continue its course and go with the manager’s proposal.
A 1.14 cent tax decrease would have meant an $11.40 annual savings to taxpayers owning a home valued at $100,000. Commissioners have disagreed for weeks on the significance of the savings. The tax cut would have cost the county a little more than $300,000.
Owens read a statement giving his support of including Pack’s recommendations into the budget.
“I support commissioner Pack’s proposed budget changes because for the first time in a long time it takes the county in the right direction,” said Owens. “It recognizes that the taxpayers in this county are being overtaxed. Commissioner Pack’s budget funds the needs of our schools and the need to correct some pay injustices in the sheriff’s department and in communications that should have been addressed in previous budgets.” (See Owens’ full statement, page 6.)
McDermott said the Owens/Pack budget asks for the county to spend every cent that’s taken in and more, drawing down the fund balance. She mentioned that next year’s budget includes $1,705,329 in debt service, which equals 6.5 cents in taxes, or 10 percent of the total budget, and that would be more if the county hadn’t paid down debt service last year.
“We do not want to follow that policy of spending more than we take in, and of borrowing and spending and borrowing and spending,” said McDermott.
McDermott also said Polk County has lost thousands of dollars in sales tax revenue because of the downturn in the economy, and those losses were made up through big cuts in the budget over the last few years.
“And we have worked very hard to keep from having any tax increases to make up the deficits that come from losing the sales tax dollars because of the economy, and to avoid any employee or teacher layoffs,” McDermott said. “You have got to balance that against the reality of what is happening in the state and the country and our county these days.” (See McDermott’s statement, page 9.)
Pack said he deals in facts and the fact is his budget is sustainable. He called “sustainable” the board majority’s “new buzz word.” Pack said even though he proposed a tax cut, the county would still end the year with $250,000 to $500,000 going toward fund balance, it just wouldn’t be as much savings as in years past.
“(The fund balance is) going to continue to grow,” Pack said. “It’s just not going to grow as much. Paying debt service is good. I applaud you. It’s time to give that back.”
Walker said she has really struggled with the budget this year and would like to try to reach a point in the future when the county gives taxpayers money back, but not until more of the county’s debt is paid down.
“I am concerned still that we are in a place that we need to be very, very careful,” Walker said. “When I look at the trend, the county manager has done a good job of leading us in rocky times.”
Gasperson said his primary concerns are that the county doesn’t know what future cuts may be coming from the state level.
“Reality is here in Polk County that the growth rate is flat for the tax base, if not declining slightly,” Gasperson said. “If it were years ago with the growth rates, [Pack’s] budget might make more more sense.” (See other comments read by Gasperson, page 12.)
The budget approved includes no salary increases and an increase in employee health insurance deductibles from $500 to $1,000 beginning on Jan. 1, 2012.
The budget includes an additional $400,000 for the school system to make up for state cuts, including helping to fund the preschool More-at-Four program, which is currently in jeopardy.
The budget leaves all six fire department tax rates and the Harmon Field rate unchanged.
The new fiscal year begins July 1.

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