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Budget: County reduces levy by 57 cents

For second-consecutive year, county has no plans to bond; debt service continues to dwindle

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 10:31 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 10:38 a.m. CDT

The county’s levy continues to head south.

Sandy Hysell, Union County auditor, reported Wednesday the county has reduced its levy $1.21 per $1,000 of valuation in the past two years. The county’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14 sets the levy at $13.79 — down 57 cents from $14.36 this year.

“That’s a considerable drop in the levy,” said Ron Riley, board of supervisors chairman. “A big part of that is valuations, especially ag lands, have went up. That means the county has more money coming in.

“But our board has also been smart with money. It’s been a focus of this board to reduce debt service by paying off bonds, we’ve reduced our health-insurance costs for employees, went from five to three supervisors — which is saving us a little — and the state mandated we levy less for mental funding this year. Those are all main factors of our levy going down.”

But, the big question is, will your property taxes stay even or possibly go down because of a lower levy?

Maybe.

The county did its part. The county reduced its levy by 57 cents in fiscal 2013-14, which compensates for the additional state rollback costs taxpayers will see in fiscal year 2013-14 and assures the county’s portion of your taxes will raise minimally, if at all.

The county’s proposed budget has property tax revenue at $5.29 million for 2013-14, compared to $5.38 million this year.

But, the county is not the only taxing entity in Union County.

The county is one of about four main taxing entities in Union County. Those taxing entities this year in order from highest tax levy to lowest were Creston School District ($15.49), county ($14.36) city ($13.52) and Greater Regional Medical Center ($2.6).

Those other three main taxing entities will need to reduce their levies significantly to compensate for the rollback, too, if property taxes were to stay even or reduce in Union County.

What is the state rollback?

The rollback is set by the state. For fiscal year 2013-14, the rollback lowered 2 percent per 1,000 of evaluation — from 50 to 52 percent — which means the county can tax your $100,000 house on about $52,000 of evaluation in 2013-14 compared to the $50,000 it taxed you on this year.

A public hearing for the county’s proposed budget for 2013-14 is scheduled 10 a.m. March 4. For a summary of the proposed 2013-14 budget, see page 11A of Thursday’s Creston News Advertiser.

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Creston News Advertiser was present for several budget work sessions held by the Union County Board of Supervisors in January and February and took a close look at the county's proposed 2013-14 budget.

The following shows areas where the county is saving money and where main expenditures occurred in the proposed budget.

Money savers

Bonding: The first question on the mind of taxpayers is, does the county plan to bond this year? County supervisors have no plans to bond in fiscal year 2013-14.

In the past three budgets, they've only bonded once, which was in 2011-12 for $500,000. In two years, the county will have reduced its debt service from its peak in 2011 at about $13 million to $9.8 million by June 2013.

5 to 3: The board again has two less members for fiscal year 2013-14, which saves the county about $88,000 per year in wages and benefits. Sandy Hysell, county auditor, said the move to three supervisors is working well right now and continues to save money in the budget each fiscal year.

Health insurance: Ron Riley, board chairman, said switching health-insurance providers to Bernie Lowe & Associates of Ankeny continues to save the county money. For the proposed 2013-14 budget, the switch will save the county a total of about $200,000.

Projects: The capital projects fund is down 88 percent for fiscal year 2013-14. That drop directly relates to the county bonding less over the past two years.

The county placed a mere $94,000 in capital projects funding for 2013-14, and $11,000 of that will be used to upgrade voting identification equipment used during elections. The rest of the money in capital projects fund — about $83,000 — is reserved to be used by secondary roads for construction projects in 2013-14.

Mental health: In the state mandated mental health redesign, the county can only levy for $593,128 in fiscal year 2013-14 — about $138,000 less than the current fiscal year. That's good news in the pockets of taxpayers, but the bad news is it means less money for maintaining services at mental health facilities unless the state steps in and gives transitional funding to Union County.

State legislators filed a bill recently that would provide an additional $11.6 million in mental-health funding to 26 of the 32 counties in Iowa that applied. If the bill passes, Union County would receive an additional $597,792 in funding.

Requests/expenditures

Compensation: Raises for county elected officials were approved in early February. County Attorney Tim Kenyon and Sheriff Rick Piel received a 3.4 percent raise, and all other courthouse employees received a 2.6 percent raise for fiscal year 2013-14.

In total, about $25,000 in raises were given for county employees in the county's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14.

Department increases: Hysell said all department budgets including attorney, auditor, treasurer and recorder increased this fiscal year. Hysell said, on average, those budgets increased 3 to 5 percent. Kenyon's requests: During budget requests last month, Kenyon asked the board to approve a 4 percent raise for his secretary. The board decided to give her the same wage increase other courthouse employees received, which was 2.6 percent.

In his budget request, Kenyon asked the supervisors to place an extra $4,500 in his budget for a total of $12,000 for a part-time employee. The supervisors approved that request. Kenyon also asked for half of that part-time employees health-insurance be paid for. The supervisors denied that request.

Conservation: During budget requests, Union County Conservation Director Doug Jones told the county supervisors his two park rangers currently receive 75 percent of his salary. Jones asked that percentage be raised to 80 percent of his salary — stating first deputies in other departments like secondary roads, sheriff’s and treasurer in Union County receive 80 percent of their department head’s salary.

The board decided to meet in the middle and raise the percentage to 77.5 percent of Jones' salary. Emergency management: Jo Duckworth, emergency management coordinator in Union County, alerted the Union County Board of Supervisors in January she would be asking for about $20,000 more in her budget request this coming fiscal year.

Duckworth explained the reason for the increased budget request is because normally she receives a Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) issued by the federal government. Duckworth said she uses that $20,000 EMPG grant in her annual operating budget. However, this year, it's unknown whether Congress will issue that grant.

Duckworth said the government has sequestered all federal grants, including the EMPG grant, and will decide whether to issue this particular grant later this year. If Congress decides to award the EMPG grant, a county budget amendment will be completed once the funds are distributed and the EMPG funds would be placed back into the county's general basic fund.

Library: Gibson Memorial Library asked for an additional $5,000 in their county budget request last month — asking for a total of $25,000 in county taxpayer funding for fiscal year 2013-14. The supervisors denied the extra $5,000 and will be budgeting $20,000 for Gibson Memorial Library in fiscal year 2013-14.

Crisis center: During budget requests, Vicki Hodge with Rural Iowa Crisis Center made a budget request of $11,000 — about $7,500 more than last year's asking. County supervisors approved a total of $5,500 for Rural Iowa Crisis Center.

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