More spending, same tax rate likely for county
Increased valuation, soaring sales tax receipts, and aggressive borrowing once again should allow Marion County to increase its spending of taxpayer money without increasing its property tax rate.
That was the early assessment of consulting accountant Scot Loyd after he met Thursday with commissioners to go over for the first time 2023 spending requests from department heads.
“Same mill levy, then go back and look at details and start moving things around,” Loyd concluded after nearly two hours of line-by-line recitation of requests. “I believe you have flexibility because of the assessed value.”
Requests for new employees, raises, new vehicles, and the like mainly were plugged in, without changes, for now.
The goal was not so much to control spending as much as it was to make sure plenty of money would be available in each line item to allow flexibility as spending decisions are made in the coming year.
One of the commissioners’ key concerns was ensuring that plenty of leeway would remain in the county’s general fund.
Loyd and commissioners try to keep a six-month “cushion” of excess cash in the fund to provide latitude for unplanned expenses.
Dozens of new requests were discussed but rarely challenged during the session. Loyd did say that department heads appeared to have been conservative with their requests.
“It didn’t seem like they increased a lot of things,” he said.
One of the things he wished they would have increased were budgeted fuel costs, which could be greatly impacted by spiraling prices at the pump.
“I think we’re going to have to analyze that,” commissioner Kent Becker said.
In other counties that Loyd advises, he meets with department heads before talking to commissioners.
“That’s the only part that I hate not being involved with the departments,” he said. “I don’t know what the conversation was.”
In Marion and other counties, sales tax receipts have been unexpectedly large.
“Sales tax — boy that really went up,” Loyd said. “That’s amazing. Sales tax in all the ones I’ve been working on, it really went up over the last few years.”
Whether sale tax receipts increased because of greater local spending or because more people were ordering online and paying destination sales taxes rather than taxes charged at out-of-county big-box stores is an unresolved question.
Among the yet-to-be-approved items for which money was included in the preliminary budget was more money for a new multipurpose building, for training employees to obtain commercial driver’s licenses, and for possibly creating a county drive-thru and raises for county attorney employees who have been handling some matters the attorney general believes the county counselor should handle instead.
A total of $1.2 million will be included for unspecified courthouse improvements. Money even will be set aside for the possibility of building or remodeling an ambulance station in Peabody, a favorite project of commissioner Randy Dallke, who represents the area.
Some amounts, such as those for the health department, are determined not so much by needs as by regulations governing state aid.
“You always levy the same amount as last year so you don’t lose out from the state,” Loyd said.
Exactly what’s the department needs may be uncertain.
“They got so many grants last year, they don’t know where they’re at,” commissioner Dave Crofoot said.
Exactly where in the budget money is placed can be important.
For example, Loyd urged commissioners to avoid putting money for dam repair into the park and lake budget so it could be used for something else if dam repairs weren’t undertaken or proved to be less costly.
As usual, Loyd also shared experiences other clients were having with ideas under consideration here.
He noted that counties with appointed administrators have suffered through disagreements between administrators and elected clerks and treasurers, resulting in such things as months of delays in creating regular fiscal accountings.
Commissioners next will meet with Loyd at 9 a.m. June 24 to produce a more nearly final budget, which will be proposed and published, then enacted after taxpayer have a chance to question what it says.