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Supervisors unhappy, but pass budget 3-2

Not all of them like it, but county supervisors have finally settled on a budget for the coming year.

The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-2 to issue a public notice of a proposed tax increase and set the public hearing at which they will officially adopt the Fiscal Year 2019 budget. The new budget will hike taxes by one-half mill, which is being set aside to buy new radios for the county’s volunteer fire departments, while other county departments and funds will either be held flat or increased just enough to offset rising insurance costs.

Supervisors were hoping to avoid any tax increase at all, and they don’t yet know how much the new radios will cost. Those two factors stung too much for District 1 Supervisor and Board President the Rev. Jerry Wilson and District 5 Supervisor Doug Falvey, who voted against the budget.

“I’m not getting any extra money — everybody else is getting it. That’s my only gripe,” Wilson said before the votes were cast. “We give a lot of people a lot of money, and I don’t agree.”

District 2 Supervisor Bobby Watts, District 3 Supervisor Nolan Earl Williamson and District 4 Supervisor Eddie Brown did agree with the budget, and their three votes pushed it through. The board will hold a public hearing at 9 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 17, at the courthouse. Citizens will be invited to speak to the board for a “reasonable” amount of time at the hearing before the budget is officially adopted.

The new budget includes $20.9 million in planned expenditures to run the county, with another $5 million in ad valorum taxes collected for the Lincoln County School District. The total Lincoln County budget contains close to $26 million in expenditures, an increase of $967,000 — 5.42 percent — from the previous year.

The board’s millage rate will increase by 0.5 mills to 55.34 mills, while the school district’s rate will increase by 1.52 mills for a total of 52.31 mills. The school district’s request for $5,014,369 is $201,002 more than it received last year.

All told, the board will levy 107.65 mills against Lincoln County property owners, who are sitting on property values assessed at almost $286 million, an increase of close to $15 million in assessed value from the previous year.

Of the total county budget, 28 percent is spent on criminal justice, 23 percent is spent on road and bridge work, 20 percent is “other funds,” 19 percent is for county operations while trust and bond funds make up 6 and 4 percent, respectively. Criminal justice is the biggest percent of the county’s general fund budget at 60 percent.

The one-half mill for new low-frequency radios for the Lincoln County Volunteer Firefighters Association will generate close to $125,000, but supervisors still aren’t sure how much new radios will actually cost. Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Clifford Galey said the association needs 129 radios, both handheld and mobile, and he’s still gathering quotes from manufacturers.

Not having final prices caused a “no” vote from Falvey, who has been critical of the way Galey has researched and presented the request to the board.

“I’m not against the radios, but I can’t vote for a millage increase when we don’t know how much it will cost,” Falvey said. “We didn’t agree to give the volunteer fire departments more money, we agreed to buy them radios.”

Williamson, who has also been critical of the radio-buying process, urged Galey to save any extra money the one-half mill might generate. Brown asked if any leftover money could be escrowed, but county administrator David Fields said the law prohibits taxes raised through VFD mills from being spent on anything else.

The board also heard from a small group of citizens who spoke up for King’s Daughters Medical Center’s emergency medical services and made far-fetched claims about ASAP Ambulance Service, a company that came before the board last week seeking to make a presentation about its company.

The board invited ASAP to come back with more information, but ASAP was not present Monday.