Despite an expected $4 million loss attributed to the pandemic, Polk County workers should still get a 3.5 percent raise — and property owners will see their taxes cut — if the county commission approves the final budget in mid-July.
“I had reservations of growing government in light of the Covid-19 impacts,” County Manager Bill Beasley told the commission, “so this is a measured approach.”
County Budget Director Todd Bond says the anticipated $4 million loss is from sales tax receipts, hampered by this spring lockdown that brought tourism to its knees, and that gas and other state taxes were crippled by residents staying home and businesses shutting down for nearly three months.
Bond explained to the county’s governing board last Tuesday that the overall impacts from the pandemic will likely be felt again in next year's budget, as well.
Even though the general fund, sourced primarily from property and sales taxes, is expected to hit about $5 million less than originally anticipated, the impact will only be the $4 million, he told the board.
Property owners will see the county-levied millage rate dip from this year's 7.16 mills, to an expected 6.9 mills, which means that they will pay only $6.90 per $1,000 of value instead of the $7.16 they paid on last year's tax bills.
Those numbers are based on the increased county-wide property value estimates of about $39.9 billion, which is up from last year's appraisal of $36.75 billion. That appraisal covers all the taxable value of land, buildings and homes as well as other personal property throughout the county, according to the county's fiscal director.
The county's share of state sales taxes is expected to drop from the earlier anticipated $38.8 million to $35.6 million, and other state tax income of $16 million is going to dip down to only $15 million.
“I don't know what the future holds, but it doesn’t look rosy,” said Commission Chairman Bill Braswell at Tuesday's briefing.
While much of the budget will decrease slightly, the county still plans on hiring some 38 new employees, many of them firefighters and rescue personnel. The budget plan calls for 16 new workers for Polk Fire Rescue, nine in the utilities departments, three in code enforcement, two in facilities management, two in parks and one in the roads department.
The budget plan will also add personnel to communications, the veterans services department and the planning offices.
Commissioners earlier this year had discussed increasing county staffing up to levels attained before the economic downturn in 2008. Presently, the county has about 2,000 workers.
The emergency services department staffing increase has been on the drawing board for about two years and the utilities departments need more staff to handle the increased need due to the rapid development in the northeastern parts of the county, he added.
The numbers outlined at the meeting reflect only a segment of the county's overall budget, which has been presented piecemeal to the board over the last few months.
The annual total budget hovered at $1.7 billion last year, and this year's budget is expected to jump slightly, but those final numbers were not readily available.
The county commission's next steps would be to okay the tentative tax rate at its July 21 regular meeting and approve the final budget following two public hearings in September.
The county's fiscal calendar stretches from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 each year.