|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company
County sets tax rate, approves FY14 budget
BY VALERIE REDDELL
LIVINGSTON — Commissioners passed the FY 2014 budget unanimously, but the vote on the ordinance setting a new, higher tax rate Tuesday was split. Commissioners Bob Willis and Milt Purvis voted "against" the higher rate, while Commissioners Ronnie Vincent and Tommy Vincent voted in favor. County Judge John Thompson cast a tie-breaking vote "for," passing the ordinance. Prior to the record vote, Willis said his calculations showed if the county kept the current tax rate and took the 5 percent cost-of-living increase for county employees out of the general fund balance, enough money would remain to cover four months of usual operating expenses. Both county's bond counselor and bond attorney advised at an earlier meeting that three months was essential, with three to six months recommended. "I don't think we have to raise taxes this year and it may be the last year we can say that," Willis said. "Nobody ever wants to raise taxes," Thompson responded. "There's never a good time." "The appraisal district killed everybody on appraisal values," Purvis said. "We're kind of double-dipping these people." Thompson reminded Purvis that the county had to spend $741,000 from the fund balance last year to balance the general fund budget, so this would be the second year in a row the county would dip into reserves to pay the bills. It is standard procedure for the county to use the general fund balance to make capital expenditures. At the end of the budget year, a single reimbursement resolution is issued and tax notes are sold to finance that debt, which allows the county to obtain a much lower interest rate. Currently, Polk County has an AA rating. Thompson explained that before each issue, the county is re-evaluated by the two major credit rating services — Standard and Poor's and Moody's — who spend about a month going through financial documents before issuing a credit rating. The credit rating generally weighs heavily on the interest rate charged on the bonds. "You can either pay now or pay later," Thompson said. Overstreet asked if rating agencies specifically look at the cash reserve. "How much do they say we need to have?" "As much as you possibly can," County Auditor Ray Stelly said. Purvis then asked, "Are we supposed to "rat-hole" the money that everybody has given us?" "You need to be able to operate through a storm like Ike and hope you get your money back from FEMA," Thompson answered. Hurricane Ike blew through Polk County on Sept. 13, 2008. County records show the first reimbursement check from FEMA was received at then end of January 2009. Polk County spent over $7 million related to the storm. "Everyone thinks it's over, but I am still waiting for the final check. It's close to $200,000. It's a percentage of monies that they withheld until the projects were complete. All the projects are completed, we're just waiting for the check," said Assistant Auditor Margie Ainsworth. With the adoption of the new tax rate of $0.6461, a homeowner with property valued at $100,000 will see a tax increase over last year's county tax statement of $18. The average home value in Polk County is $92,982. Taxpayers who are over 65 or disabled will not be impacted by the new rate.