Dawson County Commission Chairman Mike Berg has recommended setting the 2014 budget the same as in 2013 $20.88 million.
Berg presented the proposed budget to county commissioners in a work session Thursday, Aug. 8.
The budget is balanced, Berg said. Thats what we do; we have to make expenses meet revenue, he told the board.
The budget includes a reserve of $3.3 million, which is 16.07 percent of total budget expenses. But that isnt without challenges. Some challenges the county faces in revenue are declining property tax revenue, the changing economy, unfunded state mandates, health insurance costs and rising electricity costs.
In the past four years, Dawson County has seen a decrease of 34.8 percent in the tax digest, which is the total amount of taxable property in the county. About $8.5 million of the countysbudget comes from property taxes. This month alone, Berg said, there are 124 foreclosed homes in Dawson County.
Despite another drop in the property tax digest, commissioners voted at a July 18 meeting to adopt the millage rate of 8.138 for the ninth year in a row.
The economy in Dawson County has also brought challenges to the budget. Business licenses were down 4 percent.
The county also has unfunded state mandates to work around, including an increase in exemptions for those older than 65 and an increase in land conservation easements. If I remember these numbers correctly, we are for 2013 losing in exemptions about half amillion dollars and in land conservation $875,000. Those are dollars we are losing based on those over 65 taking exemptions or those that are going into conservation easements.
A conservation easement is a tax reduction based on not using property for building or business.
And although healthcare insurance costs didnt rise, Berg said there is uncertainty once the Affordable Healthcare Act is enabled. Not sure how that will affect us, he said.
Other challenges are sales tax uncertainties, replacing critical capital needs and maintaining essential services on a reduced budget.
Berg did not recommend any furloughs for county employees. But he also didnt recommend any cost-of-living raises.
Instead, the chairman recommended spending an estimated $23,000 on a salary study. What I hope the salary study does, it will show those people that are below a base level and take in the counties around us. And I put this money in here so the county manager could bring those folks up to base level. That will in effect help from a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) standpoint.
But part of Bergs salary study plan is to steer away from COLAs. One bad thing about COLAs is they reward everyone indiscriminately or bring everyone up to a level indiscriminately. In business, thats just not the case, Berg said. As we move forwardwith limited revenues weve got to look at different ways to recognize employees for the jobs they do. I think all employees doa good job. But there are employees that do a better job and those folks need to be rewarded.
Bergs recommendation to get away from COLAs is a pay-per-performance salary scale. All county employees would be brought up toa base salary equal to the job they have so that everyone starts out on an equal pay scale. A certain amount of money is set asideto reward those who perform better than others, Berg said.
Not a lot of county governments do this, he said. In this economy, you just cant bump up everyones salary, but you should bring them upto a base. In the budget, he recommended $72,000 to bring people up to a base salary. After employees are brought up to a base level, any remaining funds of the $72,000 could be used for rewards.
Its a new concept, but it brings us to rewarding employees for what they actually do, he said.
Berg also recommended restoring funding to the development authority and the health department.
He recommended restoring $75,000, half of the development authoritys budget. I cant be more emphatic about this, he said.The rest of the state will see us for what we are able to do as far as supporting those that do business in the county.
Berg said the authority is in danger of shutting down within a year and a half, even without spending money on studies needed toattract businesses to the county. I will tell you Ive met with Charlie (Auvermann, development authority director) no less than five times on five new businesses that he had the expertise to allow them to have questions answered and look at us very favorably.
The development authority did not receive county funds in 2012 or 2013.
Berg also recommended restoring $15,000 for the health department. This would allow the environmental health office to stay open full-time. The office has been closing at noon every day.
Berg also told commissioners that funding was needed to set aside for capital improvements. In the Capital Projects fund, Berg recommended four patrol cars, one ambulance, replacement of some county computers and park repairs.
This is a balanced budget that doesnt raise taxes, Berg said. It provides the necessary services that county government needs to function. Its a fiscally responsible budget.
Public hearings for the proposed 2014 budget will be held Aug. 15 and Sept. 5. The anticipated adoption date is Sept. 5. To view a full copy of the proposed budget, you may visit www.dawsoncounty.org and click on Finance under the departments tab at the top of the web page.