BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – Lee County Budget Director Cindy Renstrom is threading the needle in the 2020-21 county budget to come in just under the 2% soft cap signed into law in 2019.
Governmental agencies are required to hold a special public hearing for any revenue growth over 2% and obtain a 2/3 majority of board or council members to exceed the cap.
On Tuesday Renstrom proposed a $31.7 million budget for the next fiscal year that is right at 2% growth.
The county is looking at a levy increase of 29 cents per 1,000 assessed valuation at $10.677/$1,000, which is up from the $10.388/$1,000 assessed in 2019.
The county’s general taxable valuation climbed over $1.56 billion with a rural valuation of $845 million.
Preliminary numbers also show revenue generation for general and rural service funds of $15 million.
However, the county has not charged a levy for mental health and disability services since 2018 due to a state-mandated spend down of that fund’s balance. That spend down was accomplished in 2019 and now the county has to levy for that fund at a rate of 92 cents/$1,000.
Without that increase the county could possibly have seen a decrease in the levy, however the proposed budget includes $1.1 million in deficit spending which reduces the county’s ending balance June 30, 2021 to $8.74 million.
It’s important to note that the budget numbers are not final and budget workshops continue to be held. The county has until March 31 to submit its budget to the state, but must hold mandated public hearings and publish the budget prior to submitting it.
Several items were tabled including approving elected department heads’ salary increases. Those were recommended at 2% by the county compensation board in November.
A motion was also made by Supervisor Matt Pflug to turn down a recommended 3% raise for the board of supervisors. Pflug and Gary Folluo voted in favor of motion, but Rick Larkin and Rich Harlow both voted against the measure leaving Chairman Ron Fedler to break the tie, and Fedler voted against the move, which leaves the raise included in the budget.
However supervisors can vote later to decline the raise after numbers are firmed up on the budget.
“Rick brought something up that’s important and that is let’s wait until we come closer to what we decide our budget is looking like and have another discussion and vote on it,” Fedler said. So I’m voting no for that reason, not saying I’m supporting or opposing it, but just to see where we are.”
Larkin then moved to table the elected department heads’ salaries until the budget is clearer. Folluo voted against tabling the salaries.
“I don’t want you guys to drag your feet,” Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said. “(Cindy) has to know.”
Renstrom presented two budgets on Tuesday morning. The first had a levy of $10.871/$1,000 which carried deficit spending of $850,000. A second sheet she handed out had a $300,000 reduction in general fund revenue to simply reduce the levy and get it to the 2% revenue growth.
That sheet showed a reduction in revenue growth in the general fund by .89%. The rural revenue growth is still at 2% for that fund. Renstrom said the county can’t afford to go under the 2% for that fund.
The budget also includes an additional $80,000 for the Lee County EMS ambulance services and a continued $200,000 contribution to the Lee County Economic Development Group.
Secondary Roads is showing deficit spending in the amount of $733,478. Lee County Engineer Ben Hull said the county needs to be careful cutting budgets, too, because state and federal highway funds are tied to budget formulas.