06/01/04 — No county tax increase in proposed budget

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No county tax increase in proposed budget

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on June 1, 2004 1:59 PM

Wayne County homeowners will avoid a property tax increase for the first time in three years under the proposed 2004-2005 county budget.

County Manager Lee Smith formally presented his $101 million budget proposal to the county commissioners this morning. The draft is 2 percent more than the current budget and would not require taxes to go up.

State law requires the commissioners to pass a budget by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. They will now begin discussing Smith's proposal, which they can amend.

A public hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 15, in the commissioners' meeting room, third floor of the Wayne County Courthouse Annex.

The budget, prepared by Smith and the finance office, proposes to give county employees a 2 percent cost-of-living increase. Smith is also asking to be allowed to begin a merit-raise program, beginning in July 2005.

The budget would create eight new positions, but all would be funded by grants or state and federal money, not county tax dollars. The county will continue to fill vacant positions only as needed, he said.

An additional $766,000 would be given to the Wayne County Public School System for operating expenses, which was requested. But the proposal does not include an increase in teacher supplement pay that was also asked for by the Board of Education.

The budget would give Wayne Community College $200,000 for capital improvements. The college had requested twice that amount.

Financial officers are expecting $800,000 in increased Medicaid costs. That would mean the county would pay $6.5 million next year to reimburse the federal government for medical services for low-income residents.

The county would also spend an additional $800,000 on computer upgrades; roof repairs to the Administration Building, home to the Board of Elections; renovations at the Jeffreys Building; and emergency medical services equipment.

The county is expecting more revenues due to EMS billing. Collections have been stronger than expected, Smith said. That will enable the county to spend almost $200,000 less tax money to support EMS next year.

Smith is also proposing the county purchase six gas-electric hybrid vehicles, primarily for environmental health services employees to use while doing inspections. The hybrids typically get 60 miles to a gallon of gasoline and do not need charging stations, as earlier generations of electric vehicles did.

If the pilot program is successful, it could be expanded to other departments, Smith said.

The Wayne County commissioners have hoped to avoid a tax increase this year, particularly since Atlas Price, Efton Sager and Jack Best all face opposition for election this fall.

The county has raised taxes two years in a row. In 2002, the commissioners raised the tax rate from 65 cents per $100 valuation to 70 cents.

Last year, the board dropped the rate from 70 cents to 66 cents. But most people still paid more taxes because the county had reassessed property values for the first time since 1995. The average increase was 22 percent.

If the rate stays at 66 cents this year, the owner of an $80,000 home would pay $528 in county taxes. A $120,000 home would cost $792, and a $200,000 home, $1,320. Homeowners are also charged fire district taxes and, if they live in city limits, municipal property taxes.

Property tax bills are generally mailed in August and can be paid through early January without penalty or interest.