Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 24, 2017

County levy to drop under proposed budget

By Nicole Major, Ledger staff writer | Feb 17, 2017

The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors recently completed the county budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

“We brought the department heads to the table to review the budget they submitted to us,” said supervisor Dick Reed. “We are committed as much as possible not to raise taxes in the county.”

Supervisor Lee Dimmitt agreed.

“There are five basic funds that we deal with: the general basic fund, the general supplemental, mental health, rural basic and the secondary road department,” Dimmitt said.

Of those funds, for 2017-18 the general basic stayed the same as 2016-17, the general supplemental rose 12 cents, mental health dropped by 7 cents, rural basic dropped by 34 cents and secondary roads remained the same.

“The levy rate [fell] in mental health by 7 cents and rural basic was down 34 cents,” Dimmitt said, explaining that even though there was a rise in general supplemental, the overall levy rate decreased 29 cents from the previous fiscal year.

Although the county assessor’s budget is approved by a conference board made up of several entities including the city, county and the school districts, Dimmitt said the assessor’s levy would see a decrease as well.

“[The county assessor] sets his own budget, and it is approved by a conference board,” he said.

“Last year the county’s overall levy was $9.18 per $1,000 in the rural and in the unincorporated areas and $6.46 in the city,” Dimmitt said.

Reed said that county infrastructure and safety is where tax dollars are needed the most. Dimmitt agreed.

“Mental health, public health and law enforcement are service oriented and property taxes fund the biggest percentage of those budgets,” Dimmitt said. “Roads, the actual infrastructure comes from federal and state dollars.”

“The sheriff wanted two new deputies,” Reed said, adding that the county only approved the hiring of one.

The supervisors said the second deputy would have replaced a vacancy from last year.

“It’s still vacant,” Reed said.

The county will also need to amend the budget to cover a projected $70,000 public health shortfall before the end of the fiscal year.

The supervisors agreed that some of the problem, when it came to public health’s revenue shortfall could have stemmed from the recent changes to Medicaid.

“[Public Health] has struggled with slow pays,” Dimmitt said of payments from Managed Care Organizations, and that certain services that would have been offered to patients might not be anymore.

Reed said that the sheriff’s department, jail and public health deal with the needs of the residents in Jefferson County.

“Revenue is always a problem with those entities,” Reed said.

Dimmitt stressed the importance of maintaining a balanced budget and keeping a certain amount of funds in reserve.

“We always keep money in reserve in all of our funds so that we will have it there if it’s needed,” he said, commenting that last fiscal year the county had around 23 percent in reserve, 2017-18 will be closer to 25 percent.

“We don’t always hit the target, but we do the best we can to maintain reserves,” he said.

“We’ve done the right thing and tried to make the services work at a reasonable fee,” Reed said. “This was an election year, and now we are working with a new supervisor. It’s always a good learning experience for both of us, because we get to explain the entire process and we have to do it right. So you work harder as teachers. [Dee Sandquist] had new questions and you have to know how to answer those questions.”

Dimmitt agreed, and said Sandquist brought a new perspective to the table.

The supervisors also approved the Jefferson County Compensation Board’s recommended 3 percent raise for all elected county officials.

“We decided that was the magic number, and passed that on to county employees,” Reed said, adding that outside of wages, nothing else in the county rose.

“We needed to hold the line on anything other than salaries and benefits,” he said.

“We look at each fund and its ending fund balance to keep as close as we can to $3.4 million in reserve. This current fiscal year, we had a budget of $15 million. It sounds like a like a lot but it’s not,” Dimmitt said, adding that the county actually spent around $11.5 million.

Dimmitt said the budget is completed and it would move forward as presented.

“We’ve got great folks in Jefferson County who work hard and who are dedicated,” he said.

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