Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Tax Rate Hike For Columbus County

The News Reporter

Property owners will pay more taxes under a county budget approved 6 to 1 on Friday, just one day before the July 1 deadline.

The official budget calls for a tax increase of 3.5 cents per $100 value. The rate changes from 73 cents to 76.5 cents per $100 value. Commissioner James Prevatte was the sole opponent of a complex motion for the budget that included a tax increase. Other motions that kept the tax rate steady all died.

Residents with property valued at $100,000 will pay about $765 in property taxes –up $35 from last year. The figure does not include the average fire tax of 10 cents per $100 value or special water taxes in districts 2 and 3.

The new tax rate is estimated to generate an additional $1.8 million. Commissioners hope cutting “non-essential” spending by 5 percent across the board will generate the additional $1.8 million to balance the budget without going into the savings account called the undesignated fund balance.

To balance the budget, about $3.9 million was needed. The Health Department contributed $1 million –primarily from home health revenue, that left $2.9 million to be taken from fund balance.

Taking from the fund balance, not reconciled since September 2005, was risky. No one was sure of the amount available after deductions of $2 million to correct a DSS day care funding error, $1 million for under-budgeted Medicaid, and $1 million for a solid waste shortfall, plus departments that may have overspent their budgets, officials said.

The agreed tax rate was a compromise after a number of different proposals.

County Manager Jim Varner guesses there is $5 million in the fund balance. In fiscal 2004-2005, $12 million was in the fund, according to retired finance officer Gail Godwin, who was asked to help with the budget dilemma.

The unknown fund balance figure left commissioners at playing chance.

“We may zero out in December,” Memory warned of raiding the fund that plays a big role in the county’s ability to borrow money. Memory proposed the tax increase, a compromise to a suggestion of raising it as much as 7 cents. He was opposed to added positions that he said could be added later if the financial situation allowed it.

“I’m willing to take that chance,” said Commissioner Amon McKenzie, “I really do believe the fund balance is in pretty good shape.” McKenzie was in favor of the new positions but not the tax increase.

More from this article in the extended section.

Rate increases

Water districts 2 and 3 will see a $3 rate increase. The minimum bill rises from $22 to $25 per month.

Solid waste user fees increase to offset the estimated $450,000 fuel surcharge. Rates increase from $177 to $193 for county residents and from $90.48 to $106 for municipalities.

The new fees are based on a 96 percent collection rate. The current collection rate is 81 percent.

Godwin said the fiscal 2004-2005 solid waste shortfall was fuel surcharges of $400,000 and uncollected user fees in the amount of $600,000.

Positions and salary

Funding for the Department of Social Services and the Sheriff’s department goes up to provide for added positions.

Five positions related to the new jail are budgeted at $113,610. Three bailiff positions are appropriated at $100,000. The sheriff’s department will use bailiff funds to pay overtime, Chairman Kip Godwin said.

Social Services is allotted eight new positions at $174,361. One-half will be reimbursed by the state, Godwin said.

County employees receive a 3 percent salary increase and 2 percent 401k contributions.

Hire accounting firm

The administration staff is to “immediately seek” an accounting firm with government experience to bring its books in order, under a recommendation made part of the adopted motion.

Other action

Varner was appointed county manager. He has been the interim manager since September 2005.

The one-year contract draft provides that Varner’s base salary is $81,000 a year.
Under the terms, he will be provided a vehicle “when available,” county benefits, and 1,208 hours of accrued sick time.

The county salary schedule has been amended to meet state compliance. The new schedule lists a minimum, mid-point, and maximum salary for grades 50 to 88.

The grade-50 salary range is from $11,327 to $23,181. The grade-88 salary range is from $73,991 to $151,416.

Department heads must get prior approval from the county manager before offering new employees a salary above the minimum. This includes salary increases for new employees after probationary periods.

Department heads are not allowed to give increases above 2.5 percent without approval.

posted by David at 2:10 AM :: Permalink ::

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