Sunday, August 22, 2010

Raising my taxes once again

From the Delaware Gazette:

Rollback may be eliminated
Saturday, August 21, 2010
ANDREW TOBIAS

Staff Writer

County commissioners are scheduled to vote on Monday on whether or not to increase property taxes in Delaware County.

According to an agenda released Friday afternoon, commissioners will consider a resolution to eliminate a 1-mill property tax rollback. Doing so would raise an additional $6.3 million in annual revenue for the county, while costing property owners an additional $30.63 per $100,000 of property value.

The resolution, proposed by commissioner Tommy Thompson, says commissioners have determined “projected revenues are insufficient to maintain necessary services and appropriate cash reserves for a favorable bond rating for Delaware County” and would immediately pass the vote along to the county auditor for certification.

Any change in property tax levels would take effect next year, county auditor George Kaitsa said.

In a phone interview, Thompson said eliminating the rollback would help prevent future reductions in county services.

“I know nobody’s just chomping at the bit to be able to pay their taxes, but I think for the most part, people are understanding about the fact that they know services received cost X amount of bucks,” Thompson said. “And you either collect the monies and pay for the services, or you don’t collect the money, and you cut back on services.”

There are no immediate cuts such as layoffs of county staff on the table, but Thompson said more revenue would help stabilize the county’s finances.

Commissioner Ken O’Brien said in a phone interview that he will vote against the resolution.
“In these trying times, I do not think it is the time to raise taxes on people who are trying to put food on the table,” he said.

O’Brien said he is particularly disappointed since voters in 1996 approved a 10-year, 0.75-percent countywide sales tax, and commissioners promised to maintain a 1-mill rollback in exchange.

Also, O’Brien doesn’t believe the county would need to make immediate layoffs or cuts without additional revenue.

“It has not been articulated to me by other commissioners as to why or how we need this money, and how it should be spent,” O’Brien said.

So, the vote may come down to commissioner Todd Hanks, who has said he is “on the fence” on the issue, but who was not available for comment for this story. He has said the county maintaining a good bond rating, which allows the county to borrow money at a lower interest rate, is an important factor in his decision.

A preeminent bond rating agency has recommended that Delaware County maintain a cash reserve between $7.2 million and $7.9 million in order to preserve its current bond rating.
As of Thursday, the county had an unencumbered balance of $10.65 million in its general fund, Kaitsa said. However, $6.9 million of that is solely dedicated to the Delaware County Engineer’s Office’s roads and bridges fund, leaving only $3.7 million for general use.

Delaware County had a cash reserve of $11.5 million as recently as 2007, but commissioners have used much of the county’s “rainy day” funds over the past few years to offset budget deficits while mostly avoiding laying off staff.

While a deficit had been previously forecast for 2011, county officials now believe the county will manage to stay in the black next year. However, an unspecified deficit is now projected for 2012.
Delaware County’s property tax rollback has recently been as high as 1.8 mills, but commissioners in 2009 unanimously voted to reduce it to 1 mill.

Factoring into the commissioners’ decision is a possible loss of state funding as Ohio lawmakers seek to balance a projected $8 billion deficit in the state budget in the coming months. Kaitsa said the county could stand to lose up to $1.2 million in local government funding.

Commissioners are also considering whether to give raises to non-union county workers — salaries for these employees have been frozen since 2008. Payroll makes up about two-thirds the county’s $62.4 million budget.

atobias@delgazette.com