2011-12-08 / Front Page

County Ups Real Estate Tax

First millage hike since 2006
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

For the first time in more than five years, the Fulton County commissioners gave a nod of approval to a proposed increase in real estate taxes.

Late Tuesday morning, Commissioner David Hoover II made a motion to accept the tentative budget for the 2012 year that shows expenditures totalling $6,467,698 and funding sources at $6,222,102. As part of the funding sources or revenue, the lion’s share comes from taxes. By increasing the real estate millage rate from its current level of 10 mills to 10.95 mills in 2012, the county is expected to generate just shy of $4.213 million in taxes.

Other funding sources for the county next year will include $20,355 from licenses/permits; $1,249,611 from intergovernmental revenues; $365,698 in departmental charges; $160,100 in fines; $105,391 from operating transfers in; and miscellaneous revenue totalling $108,025.

In reviewing the expenditure side of the 2012 budget with the commissioners this week, business manager Tim Stanton pointed out cost increases are predicted in the areas of health insurance and retirement funding that fall under the category of employee benefits. As a result, employee benefits increased from the $917,474 in the 2011 original budget to $978,350 in the 2012 proposed budget.

In a budget summary released with an overview of the general fund, Stanton stated, “When the stock market does not meet the earning needs, which are required to fully fund the retirement plan, then the county has the responsibility to fund the retirement plan from the general fund. Most counties saw a tripling of their funding to the retirement fund as a result of the collapse of the stock market three years ago. In 2008, Fulton County funded the retirement plan $97,000. In 2011, the county funded the plan $257,000, and it’s expected that the funding needed in 2012 will be $325,000.”

Stanton further noted the county’s health insurance premiums could increase by around $100,000 to a level of $579,500. Furthermore, the county has until March 1, 2012, to select a health insurance provider, he added.

Another increase specifically referenced by Stanton was judicial expenses, which are expected to tally $1,222,745 next year. That amount has increased from last year’s original budgeted amount of $1,182,942. The county only currently pays 10 percent of the costs associated with operating the 39th Judicial District of the Court of Common Pleas, which comprises both Fulton and Franklin counties.

“Fulton County has minimal control of expenditures relating to procedures or policies that are established by Franklin County in reference to court costs,” he added.

In addition to judicial and employee benefit costs, other expenses for the county next year are general government, $1,224,005; public safety, $1,132,957; human services, $1,270,909; culture and recreation, $7,500; conservation and development, $107,526; debt service, $328,259; operating transfers out, $131,552; and $63,895, miscellaneous.

Stanton concluded that overall expenditures are comparable to those numbers of the 2010 original budget. As in prior years, department heads were asked to hold the bottom line on expenses and to justify any spending exceeding prior budget year levels.

With Hoover and fellow commissioners Bonnie Mellott Keefer and Craig Cutchall giving a unanimous nod of approval, the proposed budget is to have a shortfall of $245,596. As in prior years, the commissioners remain hopeful they will be able to whittle down any unnecessary expenses as the year moves forward.

In fact, during the last three years the county was able to close the gap completely between expenditures and revenue for a balanced budget. In 2011, Stanton reported a shortfall of $444,885 was eliminated by reducing health insurance premiums through aggressive bidding of insurance; reducing retirement expenses with stock market improvements; reducing legal expenditures; reducing placement of children; reducing inmate expenditures as a result of lower prison census; and reducing debt service by delayed construction.

The budget will remain on display for public review in the commissioners’s office located in the Neighborhood Service Center until its final adoption on Tuesday, December 27.

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