By Tia Lynn Ivey
The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) unanimously passed the 2019-2020 Fiscal Year budget, coming in at just over $18.5 million dollars, a three percent increase from the 2018-2019 Fiscal Year budget. County leaders have pledged to adopt the rollback millage rate later this summer despite the increase.
According to County Manager Adam Mestres, despite the increase, the county anticipates being able to adopt the rollback millage rate later this summer.
“We are always trying to do our due diligence and trying to be as conservative as we can for the citizens of Morgan County,” said County Manager Adam Mestres in May. “We try to pinch pennies where we can pinch pennies, so we don’t have to raise property taxes.”
However, after the pennies were pinched, the budget still required a three percent increase this year, on top of a four percent increase from last year.
“Ideally, we’d love for our budget to stay relatively flat each year, but we are always faced with rising costs,” said Mestres.
But with rising costs have come rising revenues for the county. According to Mestres, increases in revenues are predominantly from new growth in the county as new properties are added to the tax rolls and some property values go up. The county is also seeing a rise in revenues from local sales and use taxes.
“Now that the economy has bounced back, we are seeing people spend more of their dollars at our local stores, which is always a good thing,” noted Mestres.
Mestres also noted that the Morgan County property digest is expected to return to pre-recession levels.
“It’s taken us many years to get back to where we were,” said Mestres. “Our net digest should clear the $1 billion mark for the year. While the gross digest has been over a billion dollars for the last couple of years, now the net digest is looking to hit over $1 billion dollars this year.”
According to Mestres, the added revenue anticipated in the proposed budget will be used to various capital projects, debt service payments on the Morgan County jail, personnel costs, and healthcare costs.
“On the expenditure side, we are really focusing on capital improvements these last couple of years, mainly because in prior years, we didn’t have the money to do it,” explained Mestres. Capital projects include a new roof for the county administration building and work on the courthouse, aquatic center, and senior center.
“We are now able to take care of some those much-needed projects that have been sidelined in previous years,” said Mestres.
The county is also planning to purchase a new fire truck and replacing Self-Contained Breathing Apparatuses used by firefighters. The county applied for a grant to cover the cost to replace the breathing equipment, which cost about $8,000 per unit, but if the grant is denied the county plans on replacing one by one over time.
According to Mestres, the county’s fund balance, which is a rainy day fund, will reach 23.95 percent of county operating costs this year.
“It’s a good place to be. Not too high and not too low,” said Mestres, who noted the recommended level is between 15-25 percent.
“This means we don’t have to worry about cash flow,” said Mestres. “Overall, we have tried to be as fiscally conservative as possible to keep the county in a good place while working to lower property taxes by taking the rollback millage rate each year that we can.”