FY2021 budget talks underway in Osceola County

Shortfalls continue in general fund budget

The Osceola Board of Commissioners finance committee has been working on the FY2021 budget. A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 9:30 a.m., Oct. 20. (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

The Osceola Board of Commissioners finance committee has been working on the FY2021 budget. A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 9:30 a.m., Oct. 20. (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

REED CITY -- The Osceola County board of commissioners has set a public hearing on the FY2021 budget proposal for 9:30 a.m., Oct. 20, during the regular board meeting.

County Coordinator Susan Vander Pol presented the BOC with a draft of the FY2021 budget proposal and went over some of the highlights of the budget during the BOC meeting Oct 6.

Vander Pol said the county is looking at revenues of almost $24 million, and expenditures of more than $24.5 million, leaving a deficit of more than $500,000.

"The difference is in the general fund right now," Vander Pol said. "The general fund revenues are short verses the general fund expenditures by $577,951. We will have to raise revenues or cut expenditures."

Vander Pol said they are continuing to work on the general fund budget because they need to find a way to balance it.

"Because of the way we collect our taxes as well as some of the COIVD-19 grant money we have received, there is currently $500,000 we appropriated from the fund balance already in the general fund," she said. "Right now, we are looking at cutting that $500,000 from the general fund expenditures, or we will need to find additional revenues."

Vander Pol said she, along with the county treasurer, Lori Leudeman and the BOC finance committee has been asking department heads to really look at their budgets to see where cuts can be made.

"We are at a point with operations that we think we are fairly close," Vander Pol said. "The county treasurer will have a vacant position at the first of the year, one full time position has been reduced to part-time, and we will talk with the new sheriff, Mark Cool, coming in in January, about staffing levels to see if we can make some adjustments in the sheriff's department."

In addition to general operating expenditures, the general fund also supports other funds such as the friend of the court, emergency management, and community corrections, among others, Vander Pol said.

"These programs are supported by grant funding, and they are all important," she said, "but over the years the funding has continually been reduced and the general fund has ended up supporting them more and more. Some of the programs in the sheriff's department -- road patrol, ORV, marine and snowmobile management -- used to pay for a full-time position and now barley pays for half of it.

"If those grants go away, then the programs go away," she added.

The county had a Headlee rollback on the general operating millage from 6.403 mills to 6.399 mills for the next year, and on the road patrol millage from 1 mill to .993 mill, Vander Pol explained.

"We did have those Headlee rollbacks this year, so we are not able to levy the full amount of our approved millages," she said.

The Headlee Amendment was intended to protect property owners from increases in taxes by rolling back the tax rate (millage). The rollback takes effect when the assessed property values increase beyond the rate of inflation.

The millage revenue limitation means that, for example, if a tax base for a local unit increased from $1 million to $1.1 million and the tax rate was one mill, the millage would have to be reduced from 1.0 mills to 0.909 mills, so that total revenue would be the same as originally generated. This was known as a Headlee rollback.

The BOC has discussed putting a Headlee roll up on the ballot in order to increase county revenues, Vander Pol said.

One area Vander Pol suggested the BOC look at for reducing expenditures is capital projects.

Some of the projects on the capital improvements list include repairs to the annex building parking lot and the south steps of the facility, metal doors installed at the district court, the main courthouse air conditioning unit, brickwork on the East handicap entrance and security upgrades to buildings, as well as technology upgrades and vehicle upgrades.

"We have received $93,000 in requests for technology upgrades," Vander Pol said. "We have gone through them and made some recommendations. The sheriff's department has asked for two new vehicles and the maintenance department has asked for one. We are recommending the sheriff's department get one and the maintenance department put off purchasing until the following year.

"We need guidance from the board as to what projects you would like to see completed next year," she said.

Vander Pol said the county treasurer's office has allocated $230,000 for special projects from the delinquent tax fund to add to the general fund revenue, and the Register of Deeds office has contributed $4,000 to help offset the cost of the deeds automation project.

In addition, there has been additional indirect costs for the Commission of Aging and Emergency Medical Services added to the fund for next year.

"We are looking at having to find revenues or cuts from the general fund unless the board wants to appropriate more of the fund balance," Vander Pol said. "The last few years, instead of adding to the fund balance, we have been using it and we cannot continue to do that."

The public hearing may bring some additional changes to the budget, she added.

Also, during the meeting, the BOC set the EMS millage at .75 mills for FY2021.

"The EMS FY2021 budget was done using .75 mills," Vander Pol said. "The board will need to take action to set that amount."

In August, voters approved the EMS millage renewal authorizing the county to levy up to 1.33 mills for ambulance service. Each year the BOC must approve the millage amount for that year.

"Historically, the board has wanted us to write budgets that just meet the needs for the following year," EMS director Jeremy Beebe said. "The EMS fund currently has more than $2 million and I think it is more prudent for taxpayers that we lower the millage.

"Even if we were to increase services or change the collective bargaining agreement, we have plenty of money in the fund balance to cover that for one year and then look at the millage again the next year."

For more information on how to participate in the budget proposal public hearing visit osceola-county.org or call (231) 832-3261.