05/27/07 — Wayne County working budget includes 5-cent tax increase

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Wayne County working budget includes 5-cent tax increase

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 27, 2007 2:01 AM

Wayne County residents could be faced with a five-cent property tax increase next year as the Wayne County Board of Commissioners released its proposed $168,704,564 working budget late Friday afternoon for fiscal year 2007-08 -- an increase of $2,126,352.

If approved, the rate would jump from 73.5 cents per $100 value, to 78.5 cents -- representing $75 a year on property valued at $150,000 and $10 a year on a vehicle valued at $20,000. The increase was recommended to the board in January by financial consulting company Davenport and Co.

In his letter to the commissioners, County Manager Lee Smith explained that with only 2.8 percent revenue growth, unless the state General Assembly provides the county with alternative revenue-raising methods, such as a local option sales tax, the increase will be necessary to cover the county's budget expenses.

Also contributing to the problem is Medicaid, which the county is estimating will increase in 2007-08 by about $1.7 million to a total of $8.3 million.

In the letter, Smith explained that even with county departments projected to operate at about $890,000 less than the current fiscal year, the county would face a $2.75 million deficit under the current tax rate because of outside requests and mandates from Medicaid, public education, economic development and others such as the library, WAGES and WATCH.

"The budget team and I understand the hardship this places on all persons in Wayne County; however, the majority of these greatly affecting the budget are out of our control. Based on our calculations, the county now has control of only 13 percent of the total budget," Smith wrote. "The remaining 87 percent is mandated by state and federal government policies, laws and regulations."

Smith and county finance officer Pam Holt could not be reached for further comment.

Other budget highlights include a $725,363 increase for Wayne County Public School's local operating budget, which would raise it to $18,619,753.

However, none of the school board's $12.5 million expansion budget request, which included programs designed to address areas of concern by the commission such as the graduation rate, test scores and the recruitment and retention of teachers, was recommended -- pending the school system's budget hearing at 10 a.m., Wednesday.

Smith also is recommending $1,817,500 in local capital outlay for the school system, but because no agreement on a long-term facilities plan is in place, the budget includes no such provisions.

For Wayne Community College, he is recommending a local capital outlay and operating budget of almost $4 million, which includes $850,000 for the replacement of two roofs and $100,000 for a new skills gap initiative to coordinate between industry and public and private schools.

In terms of public safety, which includes the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, the detention center, emergency management services and emergency medical services, Smith is recommending a total budget of $23,322,944.

He is not recommending requests for one new ambulance and 20 new vehicles and 18 new positions -- eight deputies, one detective and nine in the detention center -- for the sheriff.

All total, county department heads requested 33 new positions.

Only four have been recommended -- one animal control position, one deputy director position for the county Department of Social Services, a delinquent tax collector and a tax assessor. The other two recommended positions, a health specialist and a nutritionist, both would be grant funded and would end when the money ran out.

Of the county commissioners, only Atlas Price, Bud Gray, J.D. Evans, Andy Anderson and Efton Sager could be reached, but none had had the opportunity to review the budget, and all said they would rather wait to comment.

"I don't know anything about it really," Price said Friday afternoon. "I don't really want to say anything until I know more about it."

Commissioners Jack Best and chairman John Bell could not be reached for comment.

The commissioners will have budget hearings on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday beginning at 9:30 a.m. all three days.