Although it won't be official until September, the Polk County Commission last week informally approved a budget of more than $1 billion for next year, representing a slight uptick from last year's budget.
The county was presented the annual budget in a workshop July 14 by County Budget Director Todd Bond, but has been getting it in bits and pieces over the last several months as each department outlined their wants and needs to the board.
The board took no action last week and won't until after it holds public hearings on the money matters in September, just before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
This coming year, despite a jump in the budget of some 4.4 percent, property owners will see a slight decrease in their tax bills for their property — but they will also see increases in other fees which will function to keep tax bills at about the same level, the board learned.
“I'm good with what we've got here,” said chairman Bill Braswell. “It's well thought out and I'm all for going with this.”
Taxpayers will see their ad valorem rates drop from this year's $7.16 per $1,000 in assessment to $6.89. What they will also find is a $24 hike in the fees for fire and emergency services, which will cover the anticipated cost of hiring 16 new paramedics and EMTs to staff two new ambulances.
The county is also in the midst of constructing several new fire and ambulance stations and is looking for ways to upgrade aging fire trucks.
Most of the county's day-to-day operations are funded through its general fund, which Bond told the board is expected to be $450 million — up about five percent from last year's $430 million.
The new budget includes a total of 37 new positions, including the EMS slots, and includes nine new workers in the utility department and switching three workers from contract hires to county employees. The other positions are scattered throughout the county's various departments.
“I don't feel comfortable at this particular time, with all that's going on in the economy, in adding 37 new positions,” said commissioner Martha Santiago.
The commission was also told that expected losses in property taxes will be close to $10 million and another $7.7 million in state sales tax receipts and other state funds won't be forthcoming.
The budget director added that those losses are made up for with an increase in the amount of money carried over from this year's budget. That $97.5 million carryover is saved for future improvement projects.
Bond also told the commission that next year's budget may be a different story, as the full impacts of the economic fallout from the pandemic continue to come to light.