Polk approves 2014-2015 no property tax increase budget

Published 10:00 pm Monday, July 7, 2014

Polk County began its new budget year last Tuesday, July 1 that included no property tax increases and a 1.5-cent tax increase for the Columbus Fire Department service area.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met June 16 and approved the new budget 4-1 with commissioner Ray Gasperson being the sole vote against the budget.

One amendment made just prior to the budget approval was the addition of $150,000 for waterline extensions to be placed in the county’s capital expenditures budget.

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Commissioners decided to take the funding out of the fund balance.

Commissioner Tom Pack made the suggestion to add money for waterline extensions, saying he noticed commissioners missed the addition and wanted to include it in case an extension is requested this year.

Gasperson said he agreed with the waterline extension addition but said he’d rather take a more conservative approach in terms of revenues and to pay off a $2.75 million loan in order to use the debt service payment to put more towards Turner Shoals dam repairs and to be able to fund an employee pay raise of 2.5 percent.

Commissioner Keith Holbert said he is confused as to why Gasperson would bring up the pay increase during the budget adoption when Gasperson did not bring it up during budget worksessions.

Holbert also said Gasperson did not grant a 2.5 percent pay raise four years ago when Gasperson was part of the commissioner majority.

Gasperson said economic times were different then but there was a year during his majority when the county gave a 2.5 percent employee increase.

Pack said Gasperson is concerned about the current majority’s aggressive revenue approach and if he’s so concerned why would Gasperson spend about half the county’s savings if he is not sure revenues are going to come in.

Pack said he’s comfortable with the proposed budget and not spending $2.75 million of the county’s fund balance to pay off a loan, so if revenues do not come in as budgeted, the county has fund balance to pay for it.

Gasperson said paying off the loan would not spend half the fund balance and he thinks it would put the county in a stable fiscal period for the next budget year. Gasperson said the county already knows it’s going to be spending more in employee health insurance and the employee deductibles are being raised back to $1,000 this year.

Pack said the county also knows it has an aged jail with issues and commissioners are going to have to do something in the near future.

He said spending a lot of the county’s fund balance doesn’t give the county many options to find property, purchase property and build a new jail.

That will take an increase in taxes, Pack said, but once the loan Gasperson is speaking of is paid off, that will free up about $600,000 to pay for a jail.

Gasperson said if commissioners go with his proposal, the county will still have a 20 percent fund balance, which is still 2.5 times what is recommended by the state.

Commissioner Michael Gage said in the 2010-2011 budget year the commissioner majority paid off major debt but didn’t do pay raises that year, but now Gasperson wants to pay off debt and give pay raises. Gage asked what has changed.

Gasperson said that year the county was able to pay off debt to give additional funding to the schools, which was slightly over $500,000 in two years because of the state shifting the revenue burden to counties.

Gasperson said at that time Polk was also able to keep a stable employment picture, which other areas were not able to do because of the economic downtown. Gasperson said Polk was able to avoid a tax increase and pay off debt. Gasperson also said the county is not currently receiving revenues from its fund balance from interest income like it used to receive.

Holbert said if he remembers correctly, Polk’s fund balance at that time was between $7 million and $7.3 million so the majority “had plenty to weather at that time.”

Commissioner chair Ted Owens also said Polk County was in a lot better shape than other counties because of its fund balance.

He said when he and Pack were on the board before they’d go to former county manager Ryan Whitson and to pay off debt and Whitson would advise not to do that because the interest was good at the time.

Owens said he and Pack also proposed tax cuts back then, but the rest of the board was not in favor.

Gasperson attempted to amend the motion to approve the proposed budget suggesting the county pay off the $2.75 million loan with fund balance and place $50,000 more towards Lake Adger dam repairs and $60,000 more for salary increases. There was no second to Gasperson’s motion so it died.

The budget was approved that included taking $315,000 from fund balance for capital expenditures plus another $150,000 from fund balance for waterline extensions.

Pack said he wouldn’t second the amendment to pay off the loan. He said Polk County does have money saved for a future water treatment plant and future jail because commissioners are saving money in fund balance by not spending $2.75 million to pay off a loan.

The new budget includes a department of social service (DSS) child protection employee, an additional school resource officer to add to the two current officers hired last fiscal year.

The budget also includes paying for one-time capital expenditures out of the county’s fund balance at a total of $314,719.

Capital expenditures include four new sheriff’s office vehicles, 30 Glock 45 guns, digital radios, SERT team needs and continued funding for a new crime interdiction sergeant for the sheriff’s office.

EMS will receive a new defibrillator, EZ glide stair chair, computer and a small ambulance, estimated at a total of $79,300 to be taken from fund balance.

Other major capital expenditures include $27,000 for the county’s management information system department to upgrade the county servers and increase storage.

The county is also proposing to purchase four new vans for its transportation authority at a total cost of $235,134, but the county will only have to pay for $26,126 because 90 percent of the cost is reimbursed by the state.

The Polk solid waste department (transfer station) will also purchase a new loader this year, two 40-yard recycling boxes, two 6-yard trash boxes and a push lawnmower for $194,300, but will take the expenditures out of its own department fund balance.