Polk approves 2-cent tax increase
Some fire departments, Harmon Field also have tax increases
COLUMBUS—Polk County residents will see a 2-cent tax increase on their next property tax bills as well as some fire districts and Harmon Field taxpayers.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners met last week and approved the new fiscal year 2019-2020 budget by a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Jake Johnson was the sole vote against the new budget.
The new budget includes
The two-cent property tax increase is being proposed to fund the Polk County After School program and rising public safety costs.
The new budget is proposed to use fund balance for one-time capital expenditures next year.
Commissioner Ray Gasperson said the primary reasons he is supporting the budget include that the budget will help provide sustainable funding for the Polk County After School Program, critical funding for rising public safety costs and for the newly created Polk County Health Department.
“This budget has the funding needed for the newly created Polk County Health Department,” Gasperson said. “I’m convinced that the citizens of our county will see environmental and other services provided by our own health department to be more timely and enhanced when compared to similar services that were being provided by the Rutherford Polk McDowell Health District. The really great thing about this change in public health is that it will not be costing additional taxpayer money.”
Gasperson also said he supports the budget because of all who worked diligently to make sure it is the highest and best use of taxpayer money, while maintaining a healthy fund balance.
Commissioner vice chair Myron Yoder said he often gets questions from citizens asking why the county is increasing taxes by two cents this year. Yoder said one of the biggest responsibilities of commissioners is the safety of the citizens and education.
“Public safety is one of the biggest things and the other is education,” Yoder said. “We’re adding a little bit of money, but we are putting it to good use to the education of our children.”
Commissioner chair Tommy Melton said the board has had citizens come to them reprimanding them for taking money from our school system.
“That’s a lie,” Melton said. “This board has never ever taken money from our kids. We have worked diligently to maintain what we need to do and give our kids number one because they are number one.”
Melton said he is very proud to give the school system what it needs as well as to the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office will receive seven new patrol vehicles, 12 computer system replacements and investigative supplies at $278,700; public safety radios are included in the budget at $201,510; new voting machines for the board of elections are budgeted at $171,000; building improvements at the solid waste station are budgeted at $136,000; the transportation department includes $106,840 for two buses and three viper radios (actual county cost after state reimbursement is $10,684); the Polk County Jail is proposed to get one new vehicle, six radios, five tasers and a backpack blower for $48,850; the department of social services is planning to replace a vehicle, replace 17 workstations, get three viper radios and replace three computers for $45,890 (actual county costs after state reimbursement is $22,945); the library is planning to replace four computers and have a self-service checkout system for $38,600; the recreation complex plans for one vehicle replacement and a fiberglass truck cap for $33,771; the EMS plans for a defibrillator replacement and two computer replacements at $29,100; school resource is budgeted for one vehicle replacement at $25,000 and MIS plans to replace a computer and exchange email access licenses, estimated at $10,900.
There will be several personnel changes next year, including the new Polk County Health Department, which will operate with six new full-time positions, one part-time position and several part time positions as needed.
The sheriff’s office will employ one new deputy, which will be allocated by the sheriff.
The Polk County Jail will add 2.5 positions. The new positions in the jail will bring the total staff of the jail to 26, compared to the former jail staff of 11 employees.
The proposed budget also includes a 5 percent adjustment to the county pay scale beginning in January 2020 as well as an anticipated 4 percent increase in health insurance costs.
The county plans to contribute $299,386, or the equivalent of one cent on the tax rate for the after school program. Polk County also contributed funding this fiscal year for the after school program.
The also includes $150,000 in capital reserve to pay for Turner Shoals Dam repairs at Lake Adger. The new allocation next year will bring the county’s savings for repairs to the dam to 1.25 million.
There is also $100,000 for consultative services on the old jail building, $50,000 for water line extensions and $95,000 for water consultative services included in the new budget.
The tax rate for Harmon Field was increased from 3.34 cents per $100 of property valuation to 4.5 cents per $100 of valuation.
Harmon Field and town officials told commissioners recently the tax increase is needed in order to cover capital projects such as stream bank restoration and other facility renovations.
Property owners in the Town of Tryon and the Tryon Township pay the Harmon Field tax rate.
Fire tax rate increases
A few of the county’s fire departments were granted tax increases, which were recommended by the county’s Fire and Rescue Advisory Commission. The Columbus Fire Department increased by three cents; the Green Greek Fire Department increased by two cents, the Saluda Fire Department increased one cent and the Sunny View Fire Department increased three cents.
Tryon and Mill Spring are the only departments to not request increases this year.
The county has not had a tax increase for the general fund for a couple of years. The last tax increase was implemented in 2017 to cover half of the debt service for the new law enforcement center, which was also two cents.
The total proposed budget is for $32,867,674. With the two-cent tax rate increase, the new tax rate is 54.94 cents per $100 of property valuation.
The new fiscal year begins Monday, July 1.