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Prior to approval of the FY 2021 budget, the county board of supervisors held the annual public hearing Monday, February 24 with only seven county residents in attendance.
Before opening the floor to comments from the audience, board chair Ron Landphair explained the proposed budget lowers the General Basic levy to four dollars per thousand valuation, down from the $4.50 in the current budget. The proposed budget also lowers the overall levy from $11.33514 to $9.75262.
Supervisor Kraig Pennington added the decreases in both the general basic levy and general levy were an effort by the supervisors to offset the tax burden stemming from the roughly 19 percent increase in property valuations across the county. Pennington also emphasized the county is not the only taxing entity as the school, hospital, and other agencies have taxing authority of their own.
Landphair stated salary increases for elected county officials were far lower than those recommended by the county compensation board, which included a 14 percent raise for county attorney; 10 percent raise for county sheriff; 8 percent raises for county auditor, recorder, and treasurer; and 4 percent for the supervisors. In the proposed budget, the county attorney would receive a 5.32 percent increase; the sheriff a 3.8 percent increase; a 3 percent raise for auditor, recorder, and treasurer; and no salary increase for the county supervisors.
The budget also includes contributions to the following special organizations and agencies: Emergency Management – $40,000, county fair – $20,000, Ringgold County Development Corporation – $25,000, MATURA – $9,000, daycare services (Family Resource Center and Tina’s Tots) – $18,000, the Ringgold County Historical Society – $4,250, Southern Iowa Trolley – $5,000. Required contributions included $5,568 to the Southern Iowa Council of Governments and $40,973 to County Soil and Water Conservation along with non-discretionary budget line items for the medical examiner, juvenile services, court-ordered services, and general assistance.
County resident Kevin Kilgore was the first to speak in opposition to the proposed budget.
In detailed documents presented to the supervisors, Kilgore referenced both specific budget line items and sections of Iowa Code to support his objections.
In his main argument, Kilgore stated that the statutory maximum General Basic levy of $3.50 per thousand cannot be exceeded without a vote of the people, unusual need, or other unusual circumstances outlined in Iowa Code. Kilgore argued any discretionary spending does not appear in that list of unusual circumstances; therefore, short of a vote of the people, the proposed $4 General Basic levy is in noncompliance with state law.
Kilgore focused on county salaries as one example of discretionary spending that could be curtailed to help bring the county budget into compliance. He had calculated the average salary increase for elected officials (attorney, sheriff, recorder, treasurer, auditor) at 2.7 percent, along with insurance budgeted for 7.2 percent increase, plus FICA and IPERS ranging from 2 percent to 5.5 percent. Assuming every county employee received the same pay raise as his/her department head, Kilgore estimated an overall compensation increase of 11 percent. He suggested the budget be reworked to tax only for the amount necessary to pay current salary levels plus FICA, IPERS, and insurance.
Kilgore also cited his objections to the reduction in the carryover balance from the FY 2020 to the FY 2021. He referenced line items showing a proposed revenue increase of $930,000 and expenditure increase of $572,000 that he calculates as overspending of $530,561, which would reduce the carryover by the same amount.
The reduction in the carryover balance was also questioned by former supervisor Paul Dykstra. In fact, Dykstra recommended the General Basic levy remain at $4.50 to prevent depleting the carryover balance, which he said could have negative consequences on future supervisors wrestling with budgetary decisions. He added perhaps the county should put the General Basic levy to a vote as outlined in Iowa Code and let the people decide what county services they are willing to do without to bring that levy down to $3.50.
With no further comment from the audience, the public hearing was adjourned, and the supervisors returned to their chamber to approve the FY 2021 budget as proposed.