05/25/06 — Wayne County officials say no tax hike

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Wayne County officials say no tax hike

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 25, 2006 1:52 PM

Wayne County Commis-sioners have a little more than a month before they are required to approve a budget but they are already certain that it will not contain an increase in the property tax rate.

Commissioners raised the tax rate by 7.5 cents last year and one of the biggest pieces of this year's budget -- school funding -- remains uncertain, but commissioners have vowed not to increase the tax rate beyond its current level of 73.5 cents per $100 worth of property.

"We are going to look at all revenues, but we still have to commit to the services we provide with no new taxes," County Manager Lee Smith said.

A public hearing on the proposed budget has been scheduled for June 20.

The commissioners plan to meet next Thursday to go over the proposed budget.

The commissioners hired a consultant to study school building needs and the county's financial situation and only received the final report last week. Both county and school officials are still studying the findings of Evergreen Solutions, a Florida consulting firm. They held a joint meeting on the report but reached no conclusions. Smith said he and county School Superintendent Steve Taylor will continue to meet to discuss the study. The commissioners and the county Board of Education also plan to meet within the next month to go over school needs.

By state law, a county budget must be approved by July 1.

Evergreen recommended the two boards create joint committees to talk about school facility needs.

Smith said the commissioners and all county department managers will receive a copy of the proposed budget Friday, so that they will have time to study it before Thursday's work session.

Although the current budget has not been adopted, the county is already considering hiring Evergreen to continue to work with the joint committees. The county paid Evergreen $120,000 for its initial study. A price for the additional work has not been determined, he said this week.

Having an outside consultant involved benefits the school-funding discussion, Smith said, because its representatives bring an unbiased opinion to the table. School officials originally balked at the idea but commissioners insisted on having a third party involved in the negotiations.

Thursday's work session will begin at 8:30 a.m. in their meeting room on the fourth floor of the courthouse. The public hearing on June 20 will start at 9:15 a.m.

County Commissioner John Bell said the board will hear Smith's proposals and ask questions about the distribution of money to various agencies. He said Smith has done a good job in the past of preparing a budget for commissioners' review.

"It's probably not the last time we'll be looking at the budget, depending on any needed changes. There probably won't be any major changes, because Lee has laid it out well in the past," Bell said.

Commissioner Efton Sager said the amount of money the county spends in 2006-07 could be an increase over this year but that the tax rate will not change.

"There's not much of an increase over last year -- maybe not even 2 percent. But we'll look at anything that may need to be cut," Sager said.