BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Lee County Supervisors had a healthy exchange Monday over a proposed increase to the general supplemental levy to offset recommended increases in county wages.
County Budget Director Cindy Renstrom, during a workshop following the board’s regular meeting, proposed increasing the general supplemental levy portion of the county budget just over 9% for the coming year to 11.21%.
The state allows for a 2% allowable growth without a special vote of the supervisors, anything over that threshold would require a super-majority vote, or four of five supervisors voting in favor of the increase.
A 2% increase would only have generated an additional $40,000 in the supplemental fund, so Renstrom proposed adding $1 million to absorb the pay increases and create some carry over fund balance.
“I plugged in an extra million to get general supplemental back up so the percentage increase is 11.21% from 2% this year,” Renstrom said.
That figure generates a total county levy rate of $10.355/$1,000 of assessed valuation for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. She said that rate, even with the increase, is still less than this year’s levy of $10.702.
With county valuation projections up more than $40 million for the next fiscal year, taxpayers could still see an increase in their property tax bill, but the county’s portion of the levy would go down, even if the 9% increase is approved.
Supervisor Garry Seyb said that was an important distinction to make to county residents.
“We’re moving money in the budget, but it’s not increasing our taxes to the taxpayer. It’s increasing the supplemental (budget) so we can pay our bills in between the time the fiscal year ends and the time taxes start coming in,” Seyb said.
“So the end result to the taxpayer is no tax increase.
Fedler was quick to point out that taxes could still go up based on individual property valuations increasing.
“That is unless the assessed value of their property goes up. If that goes up, the levy can be the same but the tax they pay will actually increase,” Fedler said.
Seyb responded that the county doesn’t set the valuations and can’t control what the state assessors do.
Renstrom said what’s helped this year is the elimination of the mental health levy which was .88/$1,000.
“So if we drop that and raise the supplemental to get some carry over, that would be a good time to do more than 2%.,” she said.
She said giving a proposed 10% to the general staff and 45% to the sheriff will help with retention as counties around Lee County raise their pay structures.
Supervisors Ron Fedler and chairman Matt Pflug expressed hesitancy with the increases.
“First of all, it’s going to open a can of worms one way or another, I don’t care how you look at it,” Pflug said.
“Regardless of what this board decides, and it’s your decision, but I know the feedback I’ve gotten from the 40 or 50 people I’ve ran into or talked to on the phone. They’re not happy.”
Pflug said Governor Kim Reynolds was irresponsible in putting the burden on counties to absorb the impact of the Back the Blue law that spelled out how county compensation boards were to calculate recommended sheriff wage increases across the state.
“We fight every year to hold the line on taxes, which is what were elected to do, and all of a sudden this comes at us,” he said.
Washington County just raised pay across the board 20% and added 35% to the sheriff’s wages structure.
Pflug said Lee County is not Washington County.
Supervisor Garry Seyb, Jr., said he was confused by the board’s stance on moving the funds around in the budget.
He said valuations are going up, so people’s property is worth more and the county has more money through those valuations.
“It’s up to us to use that funding the best way we see fit and not artificially raise taxes. Just moving the taxes does not increase anyone’s taxes, its just being good stewards of the money,” Seyb said.
Seyb also pushed back on Pflug saying Lee County is influenced by what Washington or Van Buren or Henry county is doing.
“If people here can go back to Washington County and receive a $2 or $3 raise per hour just like that…?,” Seyb said.
“They, in essence, become a free agent now.”
Fedler asked Seyb what was the amount of levy increase in those counties was.
Seyb said he didn’t know that and Pflug said that was information he should have if he’s going to compare counties.
“Are we increasing taxes, yes or no? Yes or no? If we were to approve this today are we increasing taxes? Yes or No, I’m the new guy on the board. Tell me because what I heard was $10.70 and $10.35. That is .35 less than $10.70. I’m a simple guy and that’s simple math,” Seyb said.
Pflug said now you have a county engineer or a county attorney making less than the sheriff and the bargaining units are going to come to the table and they won’t be sitting on their hands.