Operating costs prompting tax increase

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 11, 2008

Higher anticipated operating costs, coupled with stable assessedvalues, have forced a planned increase in Lincoln County’s propertytaxes and a bigger budget for the 2009 fiscal year, officialssaid.

County Administrator David Fields said increases in fuel costs,garbage pickup, insurance premiums for county employees and otherexpenses have led to a total projected budget of $15.2 million, a$1.5 million increase over last year. Similar expenses have pumpedup the Lincoln County School District’s portion of county fundingto $3.7 million, a $141,191 increase over last year.

The additional revenue needed is being gathered by arecalculated county millage rate, which is projected to increasefrom 47.32 mills to 49.81 mills. Likewise, the school millage ratewill increase from 49.21 to 50.63.

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Combined, the increase will mean the owner of a $100,000 home inthe county school district will be paying about $39 more a year inproperty taxes. The tax levy increase will impact other propertyowners to varying degrees based on the assessed value of theirproperty.

Fields said the countywide assessed value of approximately $238million and other forms of revenue did not increase from the lastfiscal year while costs – especially fuel costs – haveincreased.

A public hearing concerning the new budget will be held Mondayat 9 a.m. at the beginning of the regular supervisors’ boardmeeting.

One factor impacting the budget increase – and soon residents’wallets – is the county’s renegotiated garbage pickup contract withWaste Management. Fields said the solid waste budget for fiscalyear 2009 has increased $588,000 over last year.

He said the price increase from Waste Management to the countyfor garbage pickup – which went from $6 to $8 per household permonth – actually occurred last year, but the county had extrafunding on hand to cover it. Now, the one-time backup is gone.

Supervisors are expected to increase county residents’ solidwaste payments in the next board meeting on Monday, Fieldssaid.

“It’s been $9 per month since 2001,” he said. “There’s been noincrease since then, but it’s time.”

Both the county and school boards have also budgeted much largerallotments for fuel expenditure for the coming fiscal year.

“Fuel relates to everything,” he said. “Fuel is really hittingthe sheriff’s office and the road department – they cover moremiles than anyone. Look at what fuel has done to everybody outthere.”

Another constant drain on county funds is the operation of the911 service, which is insufficiently funded by phone companyformulas. Fields said phone bills for residential lines reserve $1per house per month for 911, while commercial lines kick back$2.

“It does not pay for 911,” he said. “Every county in the statedeals with that. We’ll have to put about $150,000 per year into911.”

Fields said the program receives between $375,000 and $400,000annually in kickback funding, but operating costs can extend beyond$500,000.

Worsening the problem, Fields said, is the trend of more countyresidents abandoning home phones and switching to cellular phonesonly. While the same $1 per bill rule applies with cell phones,Fields said the Commercial Mobile Radio Services Board keeps 15cents of every dollar as a fee.

Fields also pointed to increased healthcare costs and thecounty’s need to fund more general liability insurance this year asa financial culprit in the budget increase, as well as the $150,000yet to be collected toward the bond issue for the Lincoln CountyPublic Library roof replacement project.

Fields pointed out the extra taxes via increased millage rateswere not set in stone and could be reversed next year – maybe.

“Millage isn’t a static thing,” he said. “It’s recalculatedevery year based on assessed value.”

Fields said the forthcoming reassessment of Lincoln County’stotal property value – an adjustment that takes place every fouryears – will likely result in increased values and decreasedmillage rates.

“Next year, we could be asking for the same mount of dollars,but the millage rate will drop,” he said.