Kent County Levy Court unveiled its FY 2014 budget over the course of two budget review sessions this month.
The county unveiled a balanced budget, where expenditures and revenues are even at $23.4 million. The county also has said that property tax and library tax rates will remain unchanged.
The property tax rate will remain at 30 cents per $100 of taxable value, which is 60 percent of the assessed value of a property. The total revenue from property taxes for fiscal year 2014 is estimated at north of $9.6 million.
The library tax rate is set at 3.3 cents per $100 of tax value of those properties located in unincorporated areas. The estimated revenue from the library tax is $614,000.
One of the large chunks of the budget is capital projects. The budget listed a total of 23 proposed capital projects, which included everything from purchasing a replacement lawnmower for the parks department to a new 15-passenger van for the recreation department.
At the second budget review, held March 12, the Levy Court came to a consensus to fund all of the capital improvement projects listed on the budget. The total estimated cost for all of the projects is $534,900, though nothing is set in stone until the budget is introduced to the public and then adopted.
The budget review process involved the deliberation of several action items.
One of the action items that drew a lot of debate was whether to fund a cost of living adjustment for the county employees. The budget as it was presented on March 7 did not include any COLA increases.
A 1 percent COLA increase would cost the county $145,600, $113,200 of which would come from the general fund and $32,400 of which would come from the sewer fund. A typical market-based increase in COLA for the region is 2.1 percent.
“I would support a COLA, because everybody needs something,” said Commissioner Allan Angel. “We seem to be doing very well with handing money out last year and we are doing it again this year. It’s time to give back from within first.”
However Commissioners Glen Howell and Eric Buckson were not so sure. Buckson pointed out that they had given a 2.2 percent increase the year before. He also expressed concern over how salary increases would look to the state.
“The state is the big dog on the porch and I guarantee If I’m sitting up there trying to put together a budget as a legislator and I’m watching the county give away money I won’t forget that,” Buckson said.
“I just wonder if we’re inadvertently conditioning employees to expect some sort of increase every year,” he said. “How do you stop?”
Page 2 of 2 - There was also discussion of pairing the COLA with a step increase. Within each pay grade for County Employees there are steps, it is a merit based system where employees who received satisfactory employee evaluations are a pay increase.
The cost to the county per 1 percent step increase would be $127,300, $98,700 of which would come from the general fun and $28,600 of which would come from the sewer fund.
The debate over raises broke into three factions. Angel wanted a 2 percent COLA, without a step, because, according to him, a COLA applies to everyone while a step is merit based.
Buckson and Howell supported a 1 percent COLA increase and a one-step raise.
“[County Administrator] Mike [Petit de Mange] has presented a sound approach on a yearly basis and we don’t typically deviate from his ideas of how to maintain this current trend of a balanced budget, until we come to look at pay raises and then we typically deviate, and I caution that,” Buckson said.
The other four commissioners supported 2 percent COLA and a 1 percent step increases. In the end, that’s the path the majority of the commission appears to support.
Howell said the raises could alienate constituents working in the private sector who are struggling.
“As commissioners we have to wear two hats, one is of the policy maker, the other is of the constituent. There are so many people out there that are struggling, people who can’t find jobs and then they find out county employees are getting a raise, that doesn’t go over to well,” Howell said. “My counter point would be that we’re not raising taxes to do this, but constituents don’t always think right. To me 2 percent is very conservative.”
With 288 county employees and an overall cost to the county of $291,200, raises would average out to $1,011 per employee.
The Levy Court also came to a consensus to propose giving county retirees at 2 percent COLA increase. That would cost the county an additional $39,000.