LEE COUNTY – County supervisors gave a stark warning to department heads at Monday’s regular board meeting.
“Get your houses in order.”
Supervisor Tom Schulz said during a discussion on budget amendments that department heads need to take a hard look at their annual budgets because without ARPA funding given to the county by the federal government in 2021, the county would certainly be looking at budget and personnel cuts.
“We need to be cognizant that those departments that rely heavily on the general fund and general levy for funding, need to get their houses in order and get them in order now,” Schulz said.
“If this tax bill does what I think it’s going to do to us, your budgets next year are not going to look anything like the budgets you have this year. The size of things like the health department may not need to be as big as we have right now.”
Chairman Garry Seyb said he agreed with Schulz’s assessment of the new property tax cap law that was signed at the end of the 2023 legislative session by Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“I would echo Tom’s concerns and thoughts. Tom’s going through the budget line by line, as we all should be, and looking at them and I want to make sure everyone is doing due diligence,” Seyb said.
“I’ve reached out to several people to try and explain the new tax bill to me. I haven’t found anyone yet that can do that.”
Seyb said it appears from first blush and after talking with local legislators, that they are trying to reduce the amount counties can levy and also the amount the assessments can go up.
He said restrictions on both ends will result in less money for the county.
Budget Director Cindy Renstrom said it looks like the county will also have to eat the costs of homestead tax credits.
“They’re not going to refund us anymore,” she said.
Seyb said tax cuts in those areas are good in the long run, but short-term will result in less money for the county.
Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said the assessed value of the county will go down $16.2 million the first year the law is effective and it could double the second the year.
Schulz said he’s had several people try to explain the bill to him and each one has explained it differently.
Fraise said changes in bonding for counties could have an impact on the county’s ability to take advantage of the urban renewal district that was created for the new Lee County Health Department.
Fraise and Renstrom have been in talks with the county’s bond agents to see how the new law will impact the county’s ability under the district.
Renstrom said the current fiscal year amendments include additional expenses in several departments including: Sheriff’s office $186,007, Lee County Ambulance $220,288, Community Housing $15,000, the Lee County Health Department, $331,581, Secondary Roads $450,000 which will be a transfer from capital projects, and the Auditor's office $8,500 due to an added election that wasn’t budgeted.
The Board of Supervisors will be transferring $2.5 million from America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to General Basic to get the county general fund through some lean times. The current operating fund is at just over $1 million.
That leaves the county’s ARPA fund balance at just over $1.1 million.
Seyb said that remaining balance can’t be totally allocated to the new health department because some of those costs have to be used to pay half of the county’s grant writer/ARPA fund administrator position and some funds are still allocated to the county’s IT department.
“I just want everybody to understand that just because the total ARPA budget may have $1 million plus in it, not all of that $1 million plus will go to the health department,” Seyb said.
The Lee County Health Department has currently $975,000 from USDA Rural Emergency Health Care, plus a $600,000 potential Community Development Block Grant, potential funding from a Lee County Charitable Trust effort, and approximately $1 million in the remaining ARPA balance. That provides about $2.5 million toward the projected $5.5 million Lee County Health Department/EMS building.
Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks has selected that project as one of her 15 appropriations that will be taken to Congress, but decisions on which of those projects will get funding won’t come until later this year. Lee County Grant Writer Chuck Vandenberg said the application for the appropriations was just under $2.5 million.
If that appropriation would be approved, it would give the county approximately $5 million of the $5.5 million project. The rest would be made up from any funds garnered in the charitable trust and then potential bonding, if necessary. The county can currently bond for up to $750,000 without an election, however the new property tax law that was passed puts additional guidelines on governmental bonding that could have an impact on that project.
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