Polk votes down tax decrease

Published 5:15 pm Friday, June 22, 2012

Approves budget with Columbus fire tax increase
Polk County commissioners went back and forth on Monday, June 18 with motions and amendments to motions on the county’s fiscal year 2012-2013 budget. One motion, made by commissioner Tom Pack, was to decrease property taxes by a penny.
Commissioners approved the manager’s proposed budget with no tax increases or decreases and a 2.5-percent employee increase. The budget also includes a one-cent tax increase for the Columbus Fire Department in order to staff the department full-time.
Commissioners Ted Owens and Pack have recommended the county take revenue from its general fund rather than raise taxes to grant increases requested by the Columbus Fire Department, the Mill Spring Fire Department and the Polk County Rescue Squad.
Increases for Mill Spring Fire Department and the Polk County Rescue Squad are not included in next year’s budget.
Columbus Fire Chief Bobby Arledge told commissioners his department would have to decline the money if the county took it out of the general fund, because he didn’t think it was fair for it to come out of the general fund. He also said his department needs the funding to come from a tax increase to ensure that it is sustainable for years to come in order to hire three employees.
Pack said the county has the money to give all departments and it wouldn’t be a one-time allotment.
But commissioner vice-chair Renée McDermott said she agreed with the chief in that each fire district should be self-sufficient and have a sustainable flow of income for their needs.
Pack made a motion to decrease property taxes by one cent, to fund Columbus and Mill Spring’s one-cent request and to take money out of fund balance to fund capital expenditures. Owens suggested adding funding for the rescue squad, so the motion was amended to include the rescue squad.
Commissioner chair Ray Gasperson said he has concerns with the proposed tax cut. He said the state in 2013-2014 is taking a ½-cent sales tax from counties, which will equate to a $300,000 to $400,000 loss of revenue. He also said the county is considering a water-line extension and he hopes if finances work out for the water line to go all the way up Hwy. 9 from Mill Spring. He added that Polk County, compared to other counties, has a reasonable tax rate at 52 cents per $100 of property valuation.
Pack said he looks at the taxpayer and there are a lot of people unemployed and there are county employees who have trouble paying their taxes.
“We have the money to be able to [make this tax cut],” said Pack.
McDermott said she thinks they all have concerns for various people in the county but commissioners still have to do what is right for the entire county looking forward.
“Cutting back just would not be responsible,” McDermott said.
She mentioned the county needing more reserves for Lake Adger Dam repairs and said it looks like those repairs could be needed sooner than later. She also said the county knows that sometime in the future it’s going to want to build a water treatment plant and the county has not set aside a dime for that.
The motion to lower taxes was defeated by a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Gasperson, McDermott and Cindy Walker voting against and Owens and Pack voting in favor.
The next motion to approve the presented budget was amended to change how the county funds possible fuel overages next year.
The budget was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Pack the sole vote against.
Owens, however, said he thought he was voting to approve Walker’s amendment concerning the fuel contingency. Commissioners and county attorney Mike Egan later in the week listened to the meeting’s audiotape to determine whether the county actually approved the budget or the amended motion. According to Egan, the budget is officially approved. Owens said he stands by his statement that he did not intend to vote to approve the budget.
The county’s total budget is for $24,986,571, which includes the general fund, capital improvements, special revenue funds and the enterprise fund for solid waste and water departments. The county is funding the school system an additional $150,000 next year and plans to put an additional $200,000 in its future Lake Adger Dam repair savings fund.
The new fiscal year begins July 1.

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