BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Lee County Department heads continue to throw out their first pitches for 2020 fiscal year budget requests this week.
All the budgets presented were first-run preliminary budgets and are susceptible to cuts based on final revenue numbers for the county. Supervisors typically take all the budgets under advisement, balance them against projected revenues, and then ask department heads to refine budgets based on those projections.
Highlights of the 2020 fiscal year budget, which goes into effect, July 1, 2019, include adding a sheriff’s deputy to replace one who’s been assigned for three-quarters of the year to Central Lee school district as a resource/DARE officer; increasing the salaries in the County Attorney’s office to accommodate four full-time attorneys instead of two full-time and two-part time, and beefing up staff in the secondary roads/engineering department.
The largest budget, in terms of expenses for the year, would belong to the Secondary Roads which is projecting expenses at $8.48 million for 2020, an increase of $1.15 million or 16% from the re-estimated budget numbers of 2019. The department is expected to bring in $7.23 million in revenues, which is a projected increase of about $800,000.
County Engineer Ben Hull said the department is currently advertising to replace the assistant engineer position, which he held before being promoted to county engineer after the retirement of Ernie Steffensmeier in December.
He said he is still trying to fill another position on the Engineering staff and wanted to increase salaries of those employees.
“I really want to emphasize the importance of those positions. These are the guys that work with contractors from sun up to sunset and we have about $4 million in contract work scheduled this year. I’ve done some wage research on these guys and their positions with comparable counties in the state and I found and I believe that it would warrant a 10% wage increase.”
In the Lee County Attorney’s office, County Attorney Ross Braden and 1st Assistant Jonathan Stensvaag’s salaries will remain the same as the previous year, but salaries of the two new full-time assistant attorneys will increase from a combined $164,000 in 2019 to $180,000 in 2020. Kim Auge came on as a full -time assistant attorney at the beginning of the year and Amy Beavers, the former Des Moines County Attorney, has been approved to start in March, both with $90,000 salaries.
Braden’s budget will exceed the $1 million mark for the first time, showing a $100,000 increase in expenses from 2019 re-estimated budget figures. Revenues for the county attorney’s office spurred by a program showing success in collecting county fines, is also increasing with a projected $132,000 vs. $93,500 in 2019.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber turned in a budget with $4.23 million in expenses and $712,000 in revenues. Included in that is a Lee County Jail budget of $1.38 million representing a $140,000 increase over 2019 numbers. However, revenue figures from care of prisoners is projected to double from $175,000 in 2019 to $350,000 due to Lee County housing inmates from other counties.
Weber said he wanted to replace Deputy Tom Olberman, who was assigned to the Central Lee School district as a resource/DARE officer. The school district is paying a portion of the salary reflective of the school year, with the county picking up the rest of the tab.
“There’s a couple things we’d like to do, First on our list would be to backfill the 18th deputy knowing that we sent one out as a school resource officer. Keep in mind the revenue they paid the first year was $40,000 and the second year will be $45,000 and third year will be $50,000, so they’re picking up the majority of the salary for that deputy.”
The agreement is a 3-year deal with the school district.
Other county departments with hefty budgets include the Lee County Health Department which is projecting expenditures of $3.96 million vs. $3.90 million in 2019. However, the LCHD is a revenue heavy department showing budgeted revenues of $3.36 million and asked for the county to help with the balance of $600,000.
LCHD director Michele Ross said participation from the county would be just 15% of her budget with 74% coming from 3rd party payors and state and federal grants.
One combined budget represents mental health expenditures along with court administration and county housing initiatives was projected with expenditures of $2.1 million. No revenues were projected because of a state law that was passed that mandates a spend down of reserve funds by July 1, 2021. Lee County is part of Southeast Iowa Link, an eight-county consortium set up by the state to handle mental health programs on a regional basis. That group has about $1 million to spend down for mental health and developmental disabilities programming by the targeted date.
County officials are concerned that the state could change directions after the spend down and then leave the fund balances at dangerously low levels.
The Lee County Conservation Department submitted expenses at $1.22 million compared to $1.17 re-estimated numbers for 2019. Revenues are expected to hold steady at $133,000 vs $132,000 re-estimated numbers.
The Lee County Auditor’s office turned in a budget with $875,000 in expenses vs. $802,000 in 2019. Auditor Denise Fraise said she would like to have her staff at 40 hours a week instead of the 35 currently allowed. The Lee County Recorder and Treasurer’s office also asked that staff be allowed to go to 40 hours as are other county department staffs. The Auditor also oversees county maintenance and Fraise asked to have a $2,500 stipend recently recommended by the County Compensation Board to go to the maintenance director to handle some of the duties Fraise was taking on.
The Building Repairs and Maintenance budget includes $413,000 in repairs and upkeep for 2020, but that figure does not include the cost of refurbishing the North Lee County Courthouse including tuck pointing and other repairs. Those figures will be included in the final budget submission.
Lee County Treasurer Chris Spann submitted a budget with $772,000 in expenses and $440,000 in revenues. The expenses reflect a $58,000 increase, mostly attributable to employees going from 35 to 40 hours.
The County Recorder, Nancy Booten, turned in a budget with $560,000 in expenses compared to $473,000 in re-estimated budget figures from 2019. Most of that increase is a $50,000 record preservation upgrade that Booten voluntarily pulled from her budget last year. It also includes the hourly wage increases from 35 to 40 hours per week.
The Board of Supervisors’ budget shows expenditures of $1.56 million compared to $1.57 million in 2019. The preliminary budget does still include a $210,000 contribution to Lee County Economic Development group. Revenues on that budget drop from $93,200 to $89,900 mostly due to a projected $3,000 reimbursement loss from the Southeast Iowa Area Crime Commission.