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County budget plan has many holes

May 20, 2006|by Daniel Moeller/Rohrersville

To the editor:

On May 8, I obtained the summary budget packet from the Washington County government's Web site, and I spent several hours reviewing it before the May 9 budget hearing.

At the hearing, I commented on several items either in or related to next year's proposed budget.

With respect to real estate property taxes, I said that the commissioners' immediate priority right now should be their last goal for this year: "Evaluate options regarding taxation of real property." I mentioned that, on April 25, the commissioners voted to give back about $6 million to homeowners, and that if this budget passes, the commissioners will take away an additional $6.7 million from homeowners next year.

I said that the commissioners would look foolish by first voting to give back about $6 million and then voting to take away an additional $6.7 million next year from the same homeowners.

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With respect to the real property tax rate, I said that in order to fully offset the effect of increasing assessments, the real property tax rate should be reduced from 94.8 cents to 87.3 cents per $100 of assessment.

If I assume that the budget was just right this year, I would still want revenue to increase a little bit to cope with inflation. Inflation is anticipated to be less than 3 percent next year. Therefore, I could support a real property tax rate increase from 87.3 cents to 89.9 cents per $100 of assessment. This change will yield a 3 percent increase in real property tax revenues. The commissioners proposed to keep the real property tax rate at 94.8 cents per $100 of assessment and increase real property tax revenue by $6.7 million.

With respect to other taxes and fees, I said that the commissioners' estimated 14.09 percent increase in real property tax revenues is in addition to the estimated 7.02 percent increase in local taxes, the estimated $15.6 million they expect to collect in excise taxes, the estimated $757,000 they expect to collect under the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, and actual increases in just about every possible fee and permit.

With respect to the county's debt, I said that the debt service of $12.6 million is the second largest itemized expenditure in the general fund. The county's $162.6 million debt is too high and the commissioners are not serious about paying down the debt.

With respect to the communications system replacement, I said that $4.5 million will only be a down payment on a very costly system the commissioners have decided that the county can't live without - and which might never work. The debt the county incurs for this system, however, will never go away.

With respect to the most expensive line item in the proposed budget, I said that I have not mentioned the Board of Education because that is a lost cause. The board tells the commissioners how much it wants and the commissioners give the money to the board with as much grace and dignity as they can muster.

I was disappointed that none of the candidates who have filed for County Commissioner took the time to attend the budget hearing and speak about these multimillion-dollar expenditures.

Daniel Moeller

Rohrersville

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