04/25/10 — County commissioners say no tax increase

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County commissioners say no tax increase

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 25, 2010 1:50 AM

No tax increase -- those are the instructions county commissioners have given County Manager Lee Smith despite lingering uncertainty surrounding the state budget shortfall and the possible cuts that have somewhat stymied progress on Wayne County's 2010-11 fiscal year budget.

That would mean the current tax rate would remain at 76.4 cents per $100 worth of property.

"My board has asked for no tax increase and my intention is to not bring any tax increase before the board," Smith said. "Any changes will have to be absorbed in the budget.

"Details are coming every day and in many cases the (budget) figures are based on anticipation. A lot of things are waiting on the state. This time last year I was 60 percent further along. There is a lot of speculation and a lot of waiting on the governor's budget. The governor unveiled her budget this week, but it remains to be seen what will happen to it once it gets to the General Assembly."

Smith is estimating that the county budget could face a shortfall of between $2 million and $3 million, better than the $4 million that it appeared might have been the case at one point.

The county already is expecting to take a half-million dollar hit because of a change in the state retirement system.

The state has increased the match that counties will have to pay into the state retirement system. The increase is not optional. It is mandated and it is being estimated the amount will continue to increase over the next five years, he said.

"It only takes a couple of hits like that and the millions mount up very quickly," Smith said.

Smith said earlier that the mandate might mean the county will have to look at all aspects of employee benefits, including insurance.

"Things are not increasing," he said. "Last year, we cut back on expenses and revenues to give us, the technical term is 'wiggle room.'"

That wiggle room will help provide some relief this year as well, he said.

When commissioners approved the current $157.6 million budget last year, it was already frozen -- all capital projects, all jobs and salaries.

Smith expects that to remain unchanged.

However, one area that may beg closer scrutiny is in the Department of Social Services where caseworkers are being swamped by ballooning caseloads, he said.

"We will take every job on a case-by-case basis," Smith said. "Everything is tightening up. It is going to be another hard one."

Smith said he is hopeful that the county will be able to maintain the current level of funding for the public schools that provided $18,887,994 in current expense funding.