Nav Bar NEW

Check our new test website

IT'S WORKING!

The front page

Hearing is next Tuesday on Benton County budget

JASON SANDERS, Vinton

Chairman, Benton County Board of Supervisors

Again this year the county budget has been especially difficult. We continue to feel the effects of the floods both directly and indirectly. Directly as we deal with building a new Law Enforcement Center and all the nuances that go with that. Indirectly we are finding expenses that we had thought we would be reimbursed for but we have only gotten pennies back on our dollars.

While the new jail will be up and running summer 2011, and that will bring increased revenue to our county, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking county budgeting will become easy. We will have to continue to look at ways to improve efficiencies, cut spending and raise our tax base through residential and commercial development.

Spending and revenues are up due to new law enforcement center

Work on a new law enforcement center in Benton County, as well as repayment of loans for a new cell at the Benton County Landfill, have helped to bring out an expected 26 percent increase in spending, according the proposed 2010-2011 budget for Benton County.

The hearing for the county budget will be Tuesday, March 9, at 9:30 a.m. in the courthouse in Vinton.

According to the published budget, revenues are expected to increase from $23.4 million to $28 million next year. Property taxes make up $8.4 million of the revenues, which are up from $7.5 million this year. A large portion is intergovernmental funds at $12.9 million, up from $9 million this year, due funding coming in from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The county plans to start the year with a balance of $6.9 million on July 1.

On the spending side, the county expects to spend $29.9 million, up from $23.8 million this year, due mainly to work on the new law enforcement center, according to Benton County Auditor Jill Marlow. The old center was closed down in 2008 because of the flooding of the Cedar River.

Most of the spending goes to capital projects at $9.9 million, which again has most of this going to the law enforcement center.

Roads and transportation will be $6.2 million, which is up slightly from this year. Public safety and legal services are at $3.4 million, which is down slightly from this year. Mental health is at $2.1 million. County environment is down next year, at $1.5 million.

The difference between revenues and expenditures is -$1.6 million. With the carryover and unreserved/designated and unreserved/undesignated funds, the county expects to the end the year with a balance of $5.3 million.

Property taxes will be $5.90 per $1,000 of valuation in urban areas and $8.80 in rural areas.

Benton County Auditor Jill Marlow said, “The local option sales tax received by the county is sales tax collected in the unincorporated area of the county and the county is required to use 25 percent of it for property tax relief.  The remainder has been used to assist with the purchase of fire equipement and/or ambulance equipment in the following areas:  Norway, Belle Plaine, Blairstown, Atkins, Vinton, Newhall, and Van Horne.  LOSST funds have also been distributed to Benton County Conservation, Benton County Secondary Roads, as well as all libraries located within the county.  The county has also used some of the funds to upgrade computer equipment in the courthouse.

“It was a difficult year for the supervisors in balancing the needs of the county with the available revenue.  Local government continues to feel the effect of the state’s budget situation, in addition Benton County is still recovering the devastating flood of 2008.  This is the first time that the county has asked to exceed the $3.50 general basic levy since I took office in 1993, which will assist in meeting unreimbursed 2008 flood expenses.”

David Vermedahl, Benton County Supervisor
This year budgeting was the most difficult I have experienced. The General Basic fund is always the most troublesome. The levy is fixed at $3.50 with an exception of being able to go beyond that limit for a few reason the only one which fits Benton County is a natural disaster. The expenses continue to raise with not much increase in revenues. This year we had an increase in revenue as a result of increase in property values, however, this was pretty much consumed by the loss in jail revenues and increase costs in housing prisoners outside the county. We had been lead to believe we would be compensated for these expenses by FEMA however their payment was far below our costs. We have also had to plan money for debt service on the new jail in the event that we have to provide funds to the contractors before we receive the FEMA funds. Both of these events have created a demand for funds.

To respond to this we situation we asked our department heads to budget with no increase from last year. They have pretty much done that. We have tried to cut expenses as much as possible. We have not filled at least one position vacated by retirement. Raises will minimumal if any.

Unfortunately we have been unable to reduce expenses enough to make the budget work. We have found it necessary to increase taxes. We are planning an $.88 increase which includes $.25 in General Basic and $.63 in General Supplemental. As you are probably aware these are levys that apply to both city and rural taxpayers. It is my understanding that the increase in general basic beyond the $3.50 limit can only last one year. We are hoping that the situation especially the flood related problems will disappear over the next year.

As I said this has been the most difficult budget year we have had. Raising taxes for the 3 of us is very difficult. We are all conservatives and this is essentially admitting defeat or at least losing the battle. Over the next year we are going to have to take a close look at what we are doing. Some things may have to be done away with or reduced. We may have to start charging for things that we are not at present such a fee for days spent in jail. The future may be different.

 

UPDATED March 3, 2010 12:35 PM

Ad contacts Media guide Register link USA Today Link Benton photo link Iowa Photo link Poweshiek photo link