By Scott Robertson
The Budget Committee of the Washington County Commission Monday was faced with a choice: Option A was to recommend the county commission choose to fund operations cost increases in a manner that would raise a proposed property tax increase from 40 cents to 48. Option B was to leave the proposed increase at 40 cents and decline to fund county operations to the expected level. The committee chose Option C.
Having previously planned to spend the revenues gained from the 40-cent increase on capital projects over the next several years, the committee instead pulled eight pennies worth of capital spending out of the proposal, then inserted eight pennies of operations spending in their stead. The total proposed hike remains at 40 cents, while the operations increases are funded. The capital projects pennies will be cut from the schools and general government spending plans.
The proposal includes a 2 percent salary hike for county employees. The committee recommended that the hike not be made across the board, however. Office holders will be allowed to decide whether to give the same increase to every employee or to give larger increases to some employees based on merit.
Commissioner Paul Stanton was the first committee member to express concern that a 48-cent proposal would not be in the best interest of the county. “Have we done everything we can to make sure these numbers are legitimate and needed? They may every one be, but we are looking at a significant tax increase…I am a proponent of the schools, but is everything else in here really needed?”
Chairman Joe Grandy then said, “Certainly we have the ability to think about cutting services…Would you want to consider a smaller sheriff’s department?…Do we fund 911 less? Do we fund EMS less? Do we have one library instead of two?” There was no direct response from the committee members.
After Finance Director Mitch Meredith said much of the operations increase comes from healthcare and insurance related costs, Commissioner Mark Larkey suggested the idea of cutting pennies from the capital side to fund the increase for operations.
“What if we looked at the items there for other school capital items and school technology which is nine cents, and it seems like we need three pennies for the schools operating fund…let’s see what it would look like if we took three of that nine to operate, then we needed a nickel for the general fund and we have eight cents for other general government, so we could look at taking that down to three and taking five of that eight for operations and stay capped at 40.” Larkey’s motion to that effect was approved unanimously.
The full commission is slated to consider both the budget and the tax levy to pay for it at the regularly scheduled June 27 meeting.