06/20/05 — Budget hearing set for Tuesday

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Budget hearing set for Tuesday

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 20, 2005 1:45 PM

Wayne County residents will have an opportunity Tuesday to comment on a possible increase in the property tax rate.

County commissioners will hold a public hearing at 9:30 a.m. on the proposed budget for 2005-06. County Manager Lee Smith has said the county needs to increase its tax rate by 7.5 cents.

Even though the commissioners have raised taxes only once since 1995, re-evaluation of property has caused property owners' tax bills to go up.

Commissioners lowered the tax rate by four cents in 2003, immediately following re-evaluation, but the overall bills taxpayers received increased.

In 1995, the county lowered its tax rate from 73 cents to 65 cents per $100 worth of property, following revaluation.

For the following six years the tax rate remained constant.

In 2002, the county increased the rate by five cents to 70 cents per $100.

The next year, however, commissioners voted to decrease the tax rate to 66 cents per $100, following the 2003 revaluation. But the break-even tax rate for property owners would have been 55 cents per $100, not 66 cents.

The revaluation brought in an additional $3 million to the county's revenues.

The tax rate stayed the same in 2004, but this year commissioners are having to consider a 7.5 cent increase. Smith had originally called for a 10-cent hike.

The growing need for more tax revenues is something county officials have been aware of for several years.

During budget talks in 2001, Finance Officer Norman Ricks and former County Manager Will Sullivan warned commissioners about financial trouble ahead. But commissioners decided not to raise taxes that year, and chose to balance the budget by appropriating about $11 million from reserves.

When Smith became county manager the following year, he found Wayne had reduced its general fund balance by almost $12 million over a three-year period.

Smith said that fund balances in all counties grew in the late 1990s because state reimbursements for programs like Medicaid and Medicare were coming in well over estimate. But those large reimbursements shrank, and counties are now faced with offering more health services with less money.

In January, commissioners ranked their priorities, which included projects that will cost the county large amounts of money. Some of those priorities were to finance the public schools facility plan, and other capital project; construction of a new animal shelter facility; installation of a new communications tower and implementation of a radio system for law enforcement officers that would be compatible with state systems; developing a utilities infrastructure using the GIS system, and long-range financial planning that would include building up the county's fund balance again.