BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Lee County taxpayers could be looking at a reduction in property taxes again this year despite a property tax ask of just over $14 million.
In preliminary budget talks, County Budget director has proposed a tax rate of $8.35/$1,000 of assessed valuation for “urban” areas and a $10.75/$1,000 of assessed valuation in ‘rural” areas. The levies are projected to generate $14,027,730 in the proposed tax structure.
The total dollars through levy represents a 2% increase from the year ending June 30, 2021. Anything over the 2% increase would require additional public hearings in front of the Lee County Board of Supervisors and a 4-of-5 vote by supervisors to approve going over the state-mandated softcap.
The total proposed budget county spend for the next fiscal year starting July 1, 2021 surpasses the $40 million mark for the first time in history and represents a $6 million shortfall in early projecting. Revenue are anticipated to be $34.3 million down from 2021 numbers of $38.7 million.
Part of the increase in revenues for 2021 is from bonded proceeds for county maintenance and the digital radio upgrade totaling $7.2 million. Without those figured in, revenues would be up about $2.5 million for regular services.
The top department projected spends for the county include $8.8 million for secondary roads, which represents a $700,000 shortfall compared to revenues for the year. But the roads fund is projecting a $2.79 million balance at the end of June, creating an ending balance for 2022 of just over $2 million.
The county budget taken as a whole is projected to have a $15.6 million fund balance on June 30, and with the current projected shortfall, will have a balance under $10 million on June 30, 2022, the lowest fund balance in at least the past four years.
County officials are projecting a $1.45 million spend for Mental Health services, which is down about $30,000 from the current year. That fund is carrying a $360,000 balance at the end of 2022.
The Lee County Sheriff’s budget is almost on par with the current year’s budget. County officials have budgeted $4.44 million compared to revised 2021 numbers of $4.42 million.
The Board of Supervisors budget is proposed at $1.28 million compared to a $2.14 million budget last year. Revised estimates for 2021 are closer to $2.2 million. The additional funds in the current year are due to the increased assistance given to Lee County EMS. Those funds are rolled up into the new budget this year, with the county taking over the service.
The county has budgeted $3 million in the next fiscal year for the future county owned ambulance service. This year supervisors approved expenditures of $106,000 to get ready to take over the service.
The Lee County Conservation District is showing a reduced budget for 2022. The Conservation officials are estimating a $1.35 million budget compared to $1.79 million in current year expenses. Through December the department had only used about 25% of the budget for the year, but spring and summer projects could catch up the spend.