Friday, July 19, 2024
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Putnam Proposed Property Tax Increase Down To 18.8 Cents

The Putnam County Budget Committee voted Monday to reduce the property tax increase to 18.8 cents, sending the budget to Mayor Randy Porter to be finalized.

The budget includes 91 new employees, the majority of which will serve the expanded County Justice Center. It also includes a marketplace adjustment to bring county salaries more in line with similar government and private sector jobs.

The tax increase would mean an extra $140 for a home valued at $300,000, just under the county median price last year. Commissioner Darren Wilson made the motion to reduce the tax increase by taking a larger one-time transfer of $6.5 million from the county’s fund balance.

“Take this one lump sum because we have such a massive influx of 92 employees this one term and then next year, which we anticipate, increased sales tax dollars,” Wilson said. “I’m betting on Putnam County. I’m trying to figure out a way to do everything we want to do and squeeze that dollar. I’ve been looking for money everywhere. You know that. I’ve been asking questions. That is the one way that we could certainly do it and keep it under 20 cents.”

Porter cautioned the commission that while the roughly $24 million fund balance would support such a move this year, the commissioners cannot continue that approach.

“That is a huge move out of fund balance that next year, if things aren’t good, you’d be hitting fund balance again for another six and a half million, and then you’re down to ten or eleven, and we’re back to where we were in 2014 before we gained those fund balances up,” Porter said. “You have to go into this with your eyes wide open. Okay? If you’re taking six and a half million out this year, that’s six and a half million every year from here on out. These are recurring expenses that aren’t one time expenses.”

Porter said an interest rate decrease could reduce the county’s investment revenue or the economy could slow down, hurting sales tax revenue. Wilson said he expects the county to continue growing and for revenues to do likewise, pointing toward increased revenue from housing federal prisoners at the expanded justice facility. Wilson said the county also expects reduced capital project costs in the short-term.

Without increased revenues next fiscal year, Porter said the committee might need to look at another tax increase.

“I’ve heard it from many constituents and people who are not my constituents, members of the public, that they would prefer to see us raise taxes in small increments year after year so that it is absorbable by them,” Commissioner Jonathan Williams said. “Not everyone feels that way, but a lot of people do. And so if we do this what Darren’s talking about, and we do have to come back next year for a few pennies, that’s absorbable and it keeps us healthy.”

With some $18 million still in the county’s reserves, Porter said the balance remains healthy. That means the county can cash flow its operations until property tax revenue begins arriving at the start of 2024.

County Commissioner Cathy Reel, who voted against Wilson’s motion, said she remains concerned the budget committee did not make a single cut in the proposed budget.

“I just want to know on how can we continue to do this and give everybody everything they want every year in budget?” Reel said. “This is the first time since I’ve been on the commission that we have given everybody everything they’ve asked for. I mean, how do you continue that next year it may be twice. If you give them ten this year, they may want to ask for 20 next year. Is this going to be a continuous thing? How do you budget for it?”

Wilson said he understood the concern, but the county’s growth has fueled the need to keep up in emergency services. In addition to new sheriff staffing, the employee increase includes new full time firemen and EMS crew to improve staffing.

“If we don’t take care of our police, fire, EMS, then our community is going to go down and our property values are going to go down,” Wilson said.

The committee also approved giving a penny of the tax increase to the County Road Department and a penny to the Solid Waste Department. Both are funded outside the county general fund. Porter said the salary increases approved by the plan will stain both department’s budgets.

Also included in the budget plan, some $55,000 to help those who qualify for fixed income tax relief.

Porter and his staff will spend the next two days entering the budget information into the county’s software to verify the numbers. Porter said this is an important process this year because of the rush job done on new salary numbers since Thursday.

“I’m guesstimating what our fund balances are going to be on each one of these, but remember, they’re estimates,” Porter said. “My concern is that we put out to the elected officials and the department heads Friday at lunch to get us new salary sheets. And they worked hard to get those into us by noon today (Monday) so we could try to get these figures to you. Rushing like this opens up the door for a mistake.”

If there are issues, the budget committee would meet Thursday. If not, the budget will go to the full commission in late July.