County has a budget
By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 24, 2011 1:46 PM
Jack Best, center, places his head in his hand as the commissioners surrounding him vote to pass the budget. The final vote of 4-3 also included "no" votes from commissioners Andy Anderson and Steve Keen.
A sigh was heard from the audience of tax and revaluation opponents Thursday as the Wayne County commissioners by a 4-3 vote adopted a $158 million budget and a tax rate of 70.25 cents per $100 worth of property.
The vote comes two days after 16 people sought to convince commissioners at a public hearing that new property values returned by the recent countywide revaluation are too high in light of the weak economy.
Several speakers at the hearing argued that a revenue neutral tax rate would be closer to 68 or 69 cents per $100 of property value and not the 70.25 included in the budget.
Commissioners Jack Best and Steve Keen, as they promised at the hearing, voted against the budget, as did Commissioner Andy Anderson.
Best said Tuesday that he would not vote for the budget until he had a breakdown of school funding. He did not comment at Thursday's meeting, which was attended by 10 people.
Keen asked to speak after Commissioner John Bell made the motion to adopt the budget ordinance.
"I want to make it perfectly clear that we do not need to get distracted on any issue other than taxes, and more taxes and more taxes," Keen said. "I want to stay focused on the issue as we all have a privilege to do so as commissioners."
Keen said he did not want to get distracted because he had grown to respect a quote by Gary Blair.
"It says, 'That long-range planning is not about making long-term decisions,'" Keen quoted. "'It is about understanding the future consequences of today's decisions.' Now my constituents, not only in my district, but throughout rural Wayne County, have expressed grave concerns that this budget has questionable expenditures that are being backed into inflated property values. That this budget's tax rate is setting yet another benchmark of higher taxes, not just today but in the near future as well."
Many people are struggling just to live within their means, Keen said.
"When I am seeing the quality of life of Wayne County being impaired, being impaired by more government and more taxes the obvious answer is no, no."
Anderson said the board had "carefully looked at the budget" and praised County Manager Lee Smith and his staff for what they had done.
It is a balancing act, while trying to make sure the county is moving forward as much as it can, he said.
"Two of the things Mr. Keen mentioned there," he said. "People are hurting some and we have to balance that. That is all that I am saying."
In other words it is a budget for normal times, but times are not normal, Anderson said after the meeting.
Before the vote Anderson asked Smith to read the budget policy section of the budget message.
"It will be the policy of this board of commissioners that it will not absorb any reduction in state and federal funds and any decreases shall be absorbed in the budget of the agency by either reducing personnel or program expenditures to stay within the county appropriation authorized," Smith read. "This policy is extended to any agency that is funded or partially funded by the county and receives state or federal money.
"This shall remain in effect until otherwise changed or amended by the board of commissioners. The county manager is hereby directed to indicate this to each of the agencies that may be involved."
Commissioners last week trimmed $1,492,005 and a proposed 2.35-cent increase in the tax rate from the $158 million budget.
Smith noted that budget does not increase fees and reduces the solid waste user fee from $60 to $45. It does not provide for any across-the-board salary increases and maintains the county's hiring freeze.
The state required county officials to advertise a revenue-neutral tax rate because of the countywide property revaluation. A revenue-neutral rate is one estimated to produce revenue for the next fiscal year equal to the revenue for the current fiscal year if no reappraisal had occurred.
Using the state formula, the revenue-neutral tax rate for Wayne County would be 70.25 cents per $100 of property value.
Smith had recommended that the current property tax rate be reduced from 76.4 cents to 72.6 cents which in effect would have been an increase of 2.35 cents.
However, commissioners last week were able to cut $1.4 million from the budget to reach the 70.25-cent tax rate.