A lthough trash dominated last week’s county budget hearing, the numbers have continued to fall.
Following the Nov. 12 Washington County Board of Supervisors meeting, Budget Officer Brian Campbell said the $27,467,800 tax levy was a 3.184 percent increase over the 2010 budget, down from just over 7 percent presented to county residents the week before.
Campbell said some of the reduction resulted from Medicaid reimbursements, restructured debt and better, lower numbers for the cost of retiree health insurance.
“It’s mixed right now, probably; it could go either way,” Campbell said when asked to guess this budget’s chances of passing the full board vote on Nov. 19.
Supervisors, including Granville’s interim Supervisor Beverly Tatko, have insisted the budget needs to contain no levy increase.
Tatko called the idea of a levy increase “disgusting” at the board’s regular meeting in October. Granville reduced its town budget tax levy by 10 percent and neighboring Hartford went further dropping the amount of the budget to be raised from taxes by 15 percent.
Reached Monday, Tatko said nothing had changed with her expectations for the county budget.
“No, when I say something I mean it,” Tatko said.
Tatko was ill and missed the Friday, Nov. 12 public hearing, but had heard about what took place with the status of the budget and the public comments.
“I’m a person of my word – it has to be zero- I won’t change my mind,” Tatko said. Tatko said she was pleased with the efforts that have gone into getting the budget down from the initial 18 percent increase.
“It’s impressive and I praise them for that, but I totally believe that zero is possible, there’s no such thing as ‘can’t do’ in my world; it has to be zero,” Tatko said.
Tatko said she agreed with the public opinion the county is not run efficiently, but wondered if there was time to make the changes in the budget cycle this time around. “I go at this not with my heart, but with my head,” Tatko said. As a business person Tatko said she realizes people don’t want to pay higher taxes but recognizes there is one sure way to accomplish that feat.
“No one wants to do that – eliminate a service – but that’s the only way you can accomplish what needs to be done,” Tatko said.
Campbell said a zero percent increase was still possible, “but it would be a fight.”
“The way we’ve done it, we’re still in the 13 to 15 percent range for next year – we’re afraid of being at the 20 (percent) – if we do the other three (percent) we might be closer to the 18 to 20 next year,” Campbell said.
If the board should push and insist on a zero percent levy increase, Campbell said, he hopes the board would not try to hit that mark using fund balance.
“We’re about as far as we want to go on fund balance,” he said. “We need to make better decisions instead of easy decisions.”
In Granville Nov. 5, Campbell said one of the ways to keep the budget down this year would be to “kick forward” some of the county’s debt.
The county owes Pleasant Valley Infirmary $1.325 million after borrowing ($2 million) from the fund’s surplus and had planned to pay the sum back all within this year.
Money borrowed from PVI will now be paid back over the course of (four years) allowing the county to reduce the tax levy while paying about $12,000 interest on that money.
Campbell said the county learned on Nov. 1 it would receive positive reconciliation for Federal Medicaid Percentages or FMAP. Washington County expects to receive $591,326 from the state.
“We knew it was coming; we just didn’t have any clue how much,” Campbell said.
The “found money” will be used to offset lower than anticipated sales tax revenue as well as $171,000 going into the general fund to help balance the budget.
Sales tax revenues were expected to be off at least $400,000 down from an estimated $16.3 to $15.9 million.
The latest version of the tentative budget also includes a 25-cent increase in the cost of county waste transfer stickers bringing the stickers to $2 from $1.75.
The increase in the cost of a sticker was expected to bring in approximately $50,000. Putting the transfer stations back into the budget for all of 2011 looks to be a wash, with the increased sticker fee expected to add $42,230 to the budget, offsetting the estimated $50,000 increased revenue.