Kent County commissioners will adopt a general fund budget next week for the upcoming fiscal year that starts Jan. 1.
The 2014 proposed budget is structurally balanced at $161.5 million and in the vast majority of cases it reflects this year’s spending pattern because revenue hasn’t grown as the county had hoped.
“I wish we could do more with it, but we don’t have the revenue,” said County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio.
A fairly big change is the county will spend about $1 million more on capital improvement projects next year, with that budget going up from $4.8 million in 2013 to $5.8 million in 2014. Another has the budget for the county’s Veterans Affairs Department going up from the current $296,000 to $346,000 next year.
But funding for the county’s Purchase of Development Rights program will fall by 70 percent next year. This year the budget offered $50,000 to buy development rights and another $37,000 to administer the program. The proposed 2014 budget, however, only allocates $25,000 to the program.
Commissioner Jim Talen made a motion at last week’s Finance Committee meeting to restore funding to the PDR program next year to this year’s $87,000 level, but the committee defeated it by a 6-to-2 vote.
Another motion was made at the same meeting by Commissioner David Bulkowski. He moved that the county raise its operating millage from 4.28 mills to 4.32 mills, the state-authorized limit. An increase would net the county about $800,000 annually.
Bulkowski said the additional revenue could be used to cover the county’s legacy costs and would save tax dollars down the road. His motion was defeated 5-to-3.
But the commission will transfer $1.3 million from the general fund next year to subsidize the Lodging Excise Tax account. The money will be used to help meet the fund’s expenses, including the $6.2 million payment due next year on the bonds that financed the construction of DeVos Place.
The same amount was transferred to the fund this year, but those dollars were withdrawn to help finance the new Health Department clinic being built in the former Kentwood Library.
At the third quarter mark of this fiscal year, tax revenue to the Lodging Excise Tax account was up by 6.9 percent over last year at $4.65 million. This year’s bond payment is $6 million or 3.6 percent more than last year. The bond isn’t callable and can’t be paid off early. The payment rises each year by about 3.5 percent. It matures in 2031 and the final payment will be $11.1 million.
In addition, tax revenue to the county’s general fund was up this year by 3.6 percent through the third quarter to $74.4 million. It’s expected that revenue from property taxes will total $83.7 million by the year’s end.
But overall revenue to the fund was up by just 2 percent from last year. Total expenditures had fallen by 1.2 percent over the first nine months.
“I still think a break-even year is possible,” said county Fiscal Services Director Stephen Duarte.
The largest expense reduction in the general fund so far this year has been the cost of health insurance coverage for employees, which has dropped by almost 16 percent to $6.6 million at the third quarter. At the same time last year, the county had spent $7.8 million on that coverage.
But Duarte told the Finance Committee that he expects the county will see a double-digit increase in the health-insurance plan’s cost beginning in 2015, with similar increases possible for the next two or three years.
Delabbio pointed out that the county’s cost per resident has fallen since 2004. That year each resident paid $253.26 for county government. By 2012, the figure dropped by 17 percent to $210.12. That statistic and others are available on the county’s dashboard at accesskent.org.