LYONS — County Administrator James Marquette assured supervisors the county is fiscally healthy as the board passed the 2014 budget last week that raises the tax levy 3.2 percent.
The nearly $171.2 million spending plan is up slightly over last year, .4 percent, Marquette said, from about $172 million in 2013. The budget’s tax levy, the amount that must be raised by taxes, totals $37,247,967, representing a 3.2 percent rise over last year. This increase, Marquette said is less than the state’s property tax cap.
Residents can expect to pay more in their county tax bill. The budget shows a 21-cent increase in the tax rate from $7.76 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2013 to $7.97 per $1,000 in 2014. However, how much a taxpayer’s bill goes up will depend on property assessments.
“The county is in a healthy condition fiscally,” Marquette said. “Prudent management of fund balances and reserves needs to continue to ensure the county remains in a healthy fiscal position.”
Last year, the county cut over 30 jobs and raised the property tax rate 22 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
To help reduce the tax levy this year, Marquette said $4 million was used from retirement reserve funds now available because the state system is seeing a higher rate of return on investments. Retirement costs are expected to go down starting in 2015, he added, but if they don’t, Marquette warned “it will be impossible for the county to continue to manage these costs,” and cuts in the level of services by the county will have to be made.
The budget also reflects the use of $900,000 from the general fund balance as well as $100,000 from the highway machinery fund balance. The county also saw an increase of $750,000 in sales tax revenue.
State mandates continue to take a bite out of county government budgets. The 10 most costly for Wayne County total over $39 million, exceeding the county’s tax levy by over $1.9 million.
“In short, the amount of the 2014 tentative Wayne County property tax levy is more than fully consumed by the top 10 most costly mandated programs,” Marquette said.
Compared to 2013, community college tuition payments, which provide a portion of the costs for local residents who attend community colleges, have increased 28.6 percent. The county’s share of Medicaid has gone down 1.2 percent, but as a whole represent 38 percent of the tax levy, Marquette said.
Beyond state mandates, the county also continues to subsidize the Wayne County Nursing Home operations to the tune of about $1.5 million. Marquette said measures to cut costs at the facility have reduced the gap between revenues and expenditures. Marquette said the general fund “is still bearing the burden of subsidizing the nursing home operations in 2014 and will continue to do so into the future.”
The budget also includes the addition of a deputy and a sergeant in the sheriff’s office detective unit. The two positions will be dedicated to fraud investigation for the Department of Social Services. Marquette said the new positions have no impact on the tax levy, as they are funded by a combination of revenue reimbursement and anticipated reduced benefit expenses.
The Wayne County Jail also shows a loss of six corrections officers in 2014 as part of a second round of reductions that began in 2013.
A final change of note — although it has no impact on the tax levy — includes a structure change for the Economic Development and Planning Department and its interrelationship with the Wayne Industrial Development Agency. The county will create a deputy director of economic development and planning position, and the IDA will no longer employ an executive director, Marquette said. Instead, the IDA will contract with the county for those services.