Although receipts from property taxes are expected to be up slightly next year, the county’s 2014 proposed general fund budget will look a lot like the 2013 spending plan.
Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio called the structurally balanced proposal a vanilla and status quo budget.
“We are adding some money for IT,” he said of a fiscal highlight.
Revenues to the budget have been pegged at $161.5 million, with $142 million of that coming directly to the county and another $19.5 million from transfers. Most of those transferred dollars will come from the corrections millage, $14.8 million, and delinquent tax payments, about $4.7 million.
Property-tax revenue to the general fund has been projected at $83.3 million, up from this year’s estimated $82.9 million.
“We have a very modest increase in taxable value for 2014, which breaks a slide we had for several years,” said Delabbio.
The county’s taxable value fell by 3.76 percent in 2010, 2.39 percent in 2011, 2.28 percent in 2012 and seven-hundredths of a percent this year. The last increase came in 2009 and was only a third of one percent.
Delabbio reminded commissioners the county dipped into the fund’s reserve account each year from 2005 through 2008, and then suspended two capital improvement projects in 2009 to balance the budget that year.
“We’ve managed the storm but we haven’t gotten out of the process. Department managers are still budgeting tightly,” he said.
Direct spending on general fund services has been forecast at $129.8 million, with the single largest expenditure at $59.1 million for public safety. Another $26.7 million has been transferred into programs that operate on the state’s fiscal year; $4.8 million is also going to the capital improvements fund.
Total spending has been projected to match revenues at $161.5 million.
While money for the county’s Purchase of Development Rights program is being reduced from $87,180 this fiscal year to a proposed $25,000 next year, the Veterans Affairs Department will get an increase next year. The current allocation gives the department $346,000 next year, up by $50,000 from this year.
“They’re seeing an increase in budget that other departments would die for,” said Delabbio.
But Commissioner Nate Vriesman felt the county should allocate even more dollars to the county’s veterans. He said he’d like to see the commission add $100,000 a year for the next several years and then review where the department stands with the increased funding. Vriesman thought this was a better route to take instead of going to voters with a millage request to fund the department.
“I’d like to add more money into the budget this year,” said Vriesman.
Commissioner David Bulkowski would like to see the county raise its operating millage rate to the statutory limit set by the state, which he said would result in a 1 percent hike to the property tax. Doing so, he said, would end the county’s process of delaying maintenance until more funds became available and would reduce the overall cost of delayed maintenance.
Delabbio said the millage increase is a matter the full commission has to take up. “You are welcome to have that discussion,” he said.
However, Commission Chairman Dan Koorndyk said he doesn’t want taxes raised without a public vote. “The one message I get from people is, ‘Don’t raise my taxes,’” he said.
Advocates for Senior Services and the Area Agency on Aging of West Michigan are looking to ask voters to raise their taxes. Both groups have contacted Kent County about putting a millage request for senior services on the ballot next year. The current millage is for 0.3244 mills and the new request asks for 0.5 mills for eight years.
The increase is being sought because both organizations said revenue from the current millage has fallen by more than $1 million over the past four years due to lower property values.
Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the 2014 general fund budget Nov. 7 and are scheduled to adopt the spending plan Nov. 21. But what is adopted next month may not be what is spent next year.
“The budget can be amended at any time during the course of the year by a vote of the Finance Committee and the Board of Commissioners,” said Delabbio last week. “There is nothing that stops the budget from being amended.”