Polk County approves fiscal year 2015-2016 budget

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Polk County has an operating budget for fiscal year 2015-2016 with no property tax increases and increases in two fire service tax rates.

Commissioners met Monday, June 15 and approved the budget by a 4-1 vote. The only change from the draft was to add to the Tryon Fire Department tax increase. The manager’s recommended budget included a 1.5-cent increase for Tryon fire, but a majority of the board decided to approve a 2-cent increase. Tryon fire service residents will now pay 6.8 cents per $100 of valuation compared to the previous 4.8 cents.

The Tryon Fire Department originally requested a 3-cent tax increase, in order to add staff, replace a 1986 fire truck and expand the fire station in order to add sleeping quarters and a possible bay expansion. The Tryon Fire Department has not had a tax increase since the 1990s, according to Tryon Fire Chief Joey Davis. Davis said the fire department ran approximately 150 calls per year in the 1990s and currently averages 1,000 calls per year with the same approximate $200,000 budget.

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County commissioner Shane Bradley brought up his desire to grant more of Tryon fire’s request than recommended. He said he would like to see it as a 2-cent increase instead of 1.5 cents.

The county held a public hearing on the budget proposal on June 1.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson was the sole vote against the budget saying he sees three red flags in the budget proposal.

Gasperson said he is worried about the dramatic drop in the county’s rainy day fund.

“One year ago, this fund was above 40 percent,” said Gasperson. “It will likely be well under 25 percent at the end of this month. We should never be complacent about keeping a healthy rainy day fund balance. Let’s remember only 15 years ago when our county had a rainy day fund balance of zero percent and the state was ready to come in and take over our finances.”

Gasperson also said he has concerns that for the third year in a row, the county is balancing the budget through an increasingly large transfer of taxpayer money from the rainy day fund. He said this is despite taking an aggressive approach on projecting revenues.

His third red flag, according to Gasperson, is the greatly underfunding of the county’s capital reserve fund. This budget sets aside $50,000 for Turner Shoals Dam repairs, with Gasperson saying that figure should be $200,000.
“And there is no money being set aside for other capital projects that we know are coming, such as a new jail,” said Gasperson.

“Finally, I hope that the Budget Ordinance that will be voted on in June of 2016 will be much closer to my vision, which is,” Gasperson said, “Polk County government should be effective, efficient and small.”

Commissioner chair Tom Pack said something he wanted to point out was in 2009 the county’s fund balance was 25.1 percent versus and estimated fund balance of 23.5 percent.

Gasperson said 2009 was reflective of the budget voted on prior to his being on the board.

Pack said he was just saying a fund balance in that range is not uncommon and what people should realize, too, is 2015’s fund balance is an estimation at this point.

Highlights for the 2015-2016 budget include a 1-cent tax increase for the Saluda Fire and Rescue Department and the now 2-cent increase in Tryon’s fire tax rate. Saluda’s fire tax will now be 8.5 cents per $100 of property valuation, compared to the previous 7.5 cents.

Capital purchases, to be paid for out of the county’s fund balance for more than $500,000, include $249,300 for the sheriff’s office for vehicles, walkie talkies, mobile radios, computer, in-car cameras, tasers and body vests; $71,790 in the courthouse for a panic button system, metal detectors and sound-proofing and updating equipment for acoustics in the courtroom and $52,015 for the library for a new vehicle and technology and equipment. The county plans to phase out its current Book-Mobile with a mini-van to replace it.

Other capital expenditures next year are in the tax department to purchase a truck and computer for a new tax appraiser for $29,219. The maintenance budget has capital expenses expected at $22,000 to replace the impound lot fence behind the sheriff’s office and for repairs to the courthouse doors.

The communication budget also includes $19,486 in capital for a plan/consulting grant for a new 911 center.

New employees next year will include the new tax appraiser, a security deputy in the sheriff’s office to serve in the courthouse at all times of operation.

The Polk County EMS was granted one new employee; the department of social services (DSS) will receive a new income maintenance supervisor III employee; the tourism department will be reinstating the full-time director’s position and transferring an employee from economic development to tourism and the tag office will be getting a part-time employee.

Other highlights in the budget include sheriff’s office salary increases at a cost of $54,609.

The budget also includes all employees eligible for an up to five percent merit increase on Jan. 1, 2016.

The new fiscal year will begin on July 1.