County cutting budget by $1 million as taxes slide with lower property values
UPDATED print version (Tuesday, May 25, 2010) — Fayette County government will have to get by next year on $1 million less than this year, but there will be no projected property tax increase, according to the preliminary $73.3 million budget recommended to the County Commission Monday morning.
The budget will not require a property tax increase, said County Administrator Jack Krakeel, though the county will be taking approximately a $2 million hit in property taxes alone.
Fayette’s property tax digest took a 7.9 percent tumble due in large part to the economy, staff reported at the commission’s budget workshop Monday morning. Property taxes account for 61 percent of the county’s total revenues in the proposed budget.
Sales taxes, which comprise about 21 percent of the budget, have also dropped significantly, from $10.7 million in 2008 to an estimated $9.3 million this budget year, staff reported.
The total proposed budget is $73.3 million, which is 1.4 percent less than the adopted budget for the current fiscal year.
Again this year the county will get by without any new staff positions or promotions. Last year the county eliminated 21.5 full-time equivalent full-time positions as a cost-saving measure, and it was noted at the time that county employees were bearing the burden of an increased workload to compensate for the lack of staffing.
In the proposed budget, another eight full-time equivalent positions have been eliminated through attrition, according to county staff.
Staff is proposing to use $545,000 in cash reserves, but the reserves will actually increase following the 2011 budget to $5,323,005.
County staff explained that fund is available for use at any time, but County Administrator Krakeel cautioned the county will need to use some of the funds to address the county’s vehicle replacement plan, which has been siphoned off from the past few years to help create the surplus.
County Finance Director Mary Holland noted the county also has a separate $2 million emergency fund and also keeps three months worth of cash available at any given time.
That said, the tax situation has officials worried about next year, as Krakeel suggested commercial properties would be devalued significantly, thus bringing a further decline in property values.
How tight is the budget? The commission haggled with Sheriff Wayne Hannah over several line items in his budget with differences as little as $1,700 dollars. Some might consider that peanuts in a $73 million budget, but it’s a clear sign that officials are preparing for the tough economic times to linger a while.
Hannah’s initial budget proposal was a 12.2 percent increase over last year’s budget, but that has been chopped down to a 1.2 percent decrease, officials said.
Also addressed by Hannah and his staff was the issue of significant compensatory time accruals, which have a cost to the county of almost $600,000 that has to be charged back to the department.
It was noted that 10 employees have in excess of 300 hours of compensatory time compiled, while five employees have in excess of 450 hours accrued, which is near the limit at which the county is forced to compensate them with cash instead of the extra time off.
“Some of these are years of accumulation, but not all of them,” said Maj. Bryan Woodie, who is in charge of field operations including patrol and courthouse security.
Woodie noted that when an employee takes comp time, usually another employee has to be pulled from a different division of the sheriff’s office to handle duties.
Krakeel noted one option is to have a mandatory vacation plan each year, and another option is to leave the post unmanned when an employee takes compensatory time.
Woodie said he is keeping an eye on the matter and assured the commission that all accrued comp time “is work related” through training, court service and other duties that at times have to occur outside an employee’s work schedule.
“I think the sheriff is beginning to address the issue, while maintaining minimum staffing levels,” Krakeel added. “We became aware of this just this year.”