County News

Supervisors tell department heads to plan for worst

Pre-budget workshop outlines supervisors' stance on next year's budget


LEE COUNTY  - Lee County Supervisor Garry Seyb gave a grim outlook to the upcoming county budget sessions.
With Iowa legislators trying to figure out the law they approved earlier this year to cap property tax growth, Seyb said county department heads need to look for places to cut, but stopped short of issuing a mandate on allowable growth within the departments.
Supervisor Matt Pflug asked during a pre-budget workshop if the county should consider an across-the-board cut. Seyb had called the meeting just to give a preemptive notice to department heads about budget concerns.
“We’ve always been - shouldn’t we put a figure on the table saying each department has to a cut a certain percentage. The health department would like to know a figure,” Pflug said.
Seyb said he wouldn’t support an across-the-board cut in all departments.
“I want each department to look into their department and see where they may be able to find savings,” he said.
Supervisor Tom Schulz said across-the-board cuts reflect poor management.
“It’s easy for them to cut their budgets if they’ve been managing them poorly, but it penalizes good managers who have already kept their budget tight,” Schulz said. “It’s the worst, most irresponsible type of budgeting that we could possibly do.”
Schulz said cuts need to be targeted and specific to departments. Seyb said he agreed.
“I’d like you to take a look at all your expenditures and if there is anything in those you see a cost savings on- jump on those. We always look at expenditures controlling budgets, but I also want to have a focus on revenues if we can,” Seyb said.
He said there were two departments last year that had concepts on providing additional revenues. One was investing some of the county’s money, which has generated some substantial additional revenues, Seyb said.
“This is something we should have been doing for many, many, many years,” Seyb said.
“So, if there is something there outside the box and things out there that you thought, ‘Why aren’t we doing that’, or ‘Could we be doing that,’ now’s the time.”
He also told department heads to consider a 3% raise as a generic starting point on the budgets.
The county still doesn’t know what insurance rate increases they are looking at, or inflationary pressures, or what the impact of the new property tax law will be.
Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said the roll back is going from 54% of assessed valuation to 41%.
House file 718 was signed into law in May 2023 by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The bill takes aim at property tax reductions for veterans and seniors, and then caps what local governments are able to set for a general levy. There was only one vote opposed to the bill in both Iowa chambers. Skyrocketing home assessments triggered the move by the legislature to keep property tax bills under control.
However, local governments are upset with how the bill is being rolled out and are citing a lack of real knowledge of the bill by those that voted on it. Something eerily similar to the Back the Blue law passed several years ago.
“We’ll see where the state legislature ends up and what those discussions are,” Seyb said. “We will get a feel for that shortly after the session begins, but I don’t want to wait til then to start making some of those difficult assessments.”
Schulz said he believes any change to that new law will be an 11th hour thing.
Seyb said several members of the board of supervisors will be going “line
by line” through submitted budgets.
“Hopefully where you find cuts and we find cuts – those are the same cuts,” he said. “If we have to, it’s a last resort to call for across-the-board cuts. It’s a last resort. The department heads are there to make those difficult decisions. We make the final call, but ultimately it's your job to go to your department and look at it and see areas of savings.
“We are a shrinking county by population Our budget is not increasing by virtue of population shrinking we’re going to have to take serious looks.”
He said the county’s current general levy of $5.85 will not be sufficient for next year, and current language of the new law may move that down to $5.25.
Seyb said the county right now is set up to be able to pay their bills and not much else for the rest of this fiscal year.
“We can pay our bills. That’s not a ringing endorsement that we’re in a great place and go out and spend money. I want to impress on the department heads that we are not out of the woods by what we did last year," he said.


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Ebania

    How about a cut of 31% to each department Gary? Our taxes are 4 times the national average. People I know are going to lose their houses next year when assessments kick in. Clearly a ridiculous amount of spending. Lower our property taxes!

    Wednesday, November 8, 2023 Report this

  • Andrew

    50% is a far more realistic starting point. 50% cut to the budget and at least a 50% reduction in county employees.

    Friday, November 10, 2023 Report this