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County sets budget at $19.3 million

Staff Written News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor 

Morgan County’s proposed general fund budget for the 2020-2021 Fiscal Year is over $19.3 million, a 3.9 percent increase from the current county budget. County Finance Director Lori Sayer presented the proposed budget to the Morgan County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, May 19. 

The total proposed budget comes in at $19,317,122, up from last year’s $18,590,559 budget. Despite the proposed $726,563 increase, the county anticipates taking the millage rollback rate this summer. 

“The budget has increased since we have more revenue coming in this year, so we should be able to adopt the rollback rate,” said Sayer. According to Sayer, the preliminary estimate for the rollback rate is 10.71, a 1.73 drop from the Current rate of 10.895. 

“That could change, but that’s the current estimated rollback rate,” said Sayer. 

County Manager Adam Mestres stressed that the increased budget is due to increased growth in the county and pledged that property taxes will not be raised through the millage rate.  

“We are pleased with the overall state of the budget. We think we are at a good spot,” said Mestres.  “What’s important to note is that the 3.9 percent increase in the budget is from all new revenue from new growth in the county. Our plan is to rollback the millage rate.

Mestres noted that even with taking the rollback millage rate, the county will be able to accomplish long overdue needs.

“The new budget will still allow us to continue tackling deferred maintenance needs, updating our fleet, and other things we have not been able to do in the past because money has been tight. Now we are able to catch up on those capital renovations. We are pleased with the outcome. All of the elected officials and department heads did a great job of watching their department’s bottom-lines and submitting their requests this year.” 

According to Sayer, most people’s property taxes should stay about flat with that kind of drop in the millage rate. 

“The drop will counteract any increases in property value assessments,” said Sayer. 

Sayer explained that the increased revenue is coming from property taxes and sales tax collections. 

“We have additional revenue from property taxes because we have new construction in the county, including new houses, and higher collections in sales tax. We have also given very conservative estimates in sales taxes, and we still are very conservative, so we have collected more in sales taxes and insurance premium taxes than anticipated,” explained Sayer. 

With the added revenue, the county is planning to invest in employees and county facilities. 

“The majority of new spending will be on continuing capital improvements for existing buildings and investing in employee benefits,” said Sayer. 

The county has set up a $350,000 reserve account in order to self-fund healthcare plans for county employees. 

“We are are changing our healthcare and self-funding it,” said Sayer. “We may not have to spend it, but it is there in case we need to…We hope in the future that by self-funding healthcare, it will safe us from future increases in health insurance costs.” 

The county is also setting aside $150,000 to purchase a new firetruck in 2021. Other spending will be invested into personnel costs, such as payroll taxes, retirement benefits and worker compensation. County is also planning to make Improvements to solid waste. 

According to Sayer, the county’s fund balance, which is reserved money for emergencies and other unexpected expenses, is up to $5.7 million, a 30 percent fund balance rate. 

“We have a heathy fund balance,” said Sayer. “Because of our strong fund balance, we were able to save $168,000 on our energy efficient upgrades by self-funding and being able to wait on interest rates to drop.”

 According to Sayer, the fund balance provides a solid cushion to empower the county to make better financial decisions and investments. 

Sayer believes the proposed budget is fiscally sound and faithfully manages taxpayer money. 

“This budget prevents us from raising property taxes, allows us to continue to have a strong fund balance, and it still allows us to make capital improvements and invest in employee needs,” said Sayer.   

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