Polk County approves new budget with 2-cent tax increase

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Polk County taxpayers will see an increase in their tax bills this year for the first time in over a decade.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday, June 20 and unanimously approved the fiscal year 2016-2017 budget. The budget includes a two-cent increase to pay for half of the year’s debt service on a new law enforcement center that will include a new jail and sheriff’s office. Commissioners have said an additional tax increase is expected for the 2017-2018 budget unless a new source of revenue can be found. One penny on the county’s tax roll equals revenue of approximately $262,000, so two cents will be another approximate $524,000.

Commissioners held a public hearing for comments on the new budget during its June 6 meeting where no one spoke on the budget.

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The county’s new tax rate is 53.75 cents per $100 of property valuation. There are also increases in four of the county’s six fire departments.

The Columbus Fire Department tax rate increased ½ cent so will now be 7 cents; the Green Creek Fire Department’s rate was increased by one and a ½ cent so will now be 5.6 cents; the Mill Spring Fire Department’s tax rate was increased by ½ cent so will now be 7 cents and the Saluda Fire Department’s tax rate was increased by one cent so will now be 9.5 cents.

Tryon Fire Department requested one cent but commissioners did not approve the request. Tryon’s fire tax rate remains at 6.8 cents and Sunny View’s fire tax rate remains at 6 cents.

The only other fee increases in the county’s budget will come in the solid waste enterprise fund, which is for the transfer station. Fees will increase by $2 per ton to commercial haulers. There will also be a $10 per item fee on disposed electronics and a $20 per ton fee on clean fill material, block, brick, concrete, asphalt or uncontaminated dirt.

Major capital expenditures proposed for next year’s budget include $236,200 for new vehicles and capital needs for the sheriff’s office; two new vans for the transportation department, a transit ambulance and a defibrillator for EMS; funding for the recreation department to grade Searcy Field; a used tractor for solid waste, a public computer and network infrastructure replacement for the library, computer upgrades and printers for the department of social services (DSS) and a new side arm mower tractor attachment for the recreation complex.

There are also several personnel changes that will begin next fiscal year.

The sheriff’s office will hire a new officer; an additional EMS position was approved in order to give 24/7 coverage with two EMTs per truck, which will give two fully staffed trucks at all times; the creation of a consolidated human services agency director in DSS, the creation of an income maintenance position to maintain the day care voucher program at DSS, a full-time position for DSS for a Medicaid worker and fraud investigator and to make two part-time positions full-time in the transportation department.

The new budget will also give employees a chance for a merit-based, one-time payment incentive effective Jan. 1, 2017.

Another major budget item in next year’s proposal is transferring $300,000 to capital reserve for Turner Shoal’s Dam repairs.

County manager Marche Pittman told commissioners Monday the budget is balanced and used no fund balance to balance the budget. This is the first year in a few years that the county has not used fund balance to balance the budget for capital expenditures.

Commissioners commented that they did not enjoy having to approve a tax increase in the new budget. Commissioners also commented that this was the first year in several years that the budget was approved by a unanimous vote.

The new budget begins July 1.