County budget and millage rate are basically unchanged for 2013

County budget and millage rate are basically unchanged for 2013

September 5th, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

Small changes in the Catoosa County budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 could result in residents - and county employees - having more small change in their pockets.

Though the millage (property tax) rate is ostensibly being lowered, the amount is so small - 0.003 - that it essentially means the tax rate remains flat and most property owners will see no change in their tax bill.

"Property taxes have not gone up," Commissioner Jim Cutler said after the millage rate and budget, which is about $500,000 higher than last year, were adopted.

In fact, due to reassessments during the ongoing recession, some tax bills will go down.

County Budget Officer Carl Henson said that someone with property having an adjusted fair market value of $100,000 will pay $2.39 less in property taxes in 2012 than in 2011.

County Manager Mike Helton said the county's millage rate of 5.385 was already the seventh-lowest in the state and its low-tax status should improve with the new rate of 5.382.

While property owners might be paying less in taxes, the county expects to spend more than it takes in during the coming year.

When budget talks for the upcoming year began, a revenue shortfall of about $1.4 million was projected. That amount was trimmed to $779,000 when the 2013 budget was first presented, but increased to about $795,00 in the budget that was adopted last week.

Henson said the upward shift - budgets are usually tightened during negotiations - was because the Board of Commissioners wanted to include a 3-percent cost of living raise for all employees.

Those raises carry a caveat: they will not go into effect until April 1, 2013, midway through the fiscal year, and could be adjusted if conditions warrant.

Three major components prompted projected revenue being less than projected expenditures, Henson said.

In addition to salaries, the adopted budget anticipates that the cost of fuel, group insurance, 911 service, contract and other essential services will all increase in the coming year.

Coupled with increased expenditures, Henson said revenue is projected to decline in three major areas: fines and forfeitures, interest income and inmate housing charges.

That the budget anticipates any shortfall in revenue being met by using the county's reserve funds is something the commissioners are familiar and comfortable with.

"We anticipate going into reserves but might not have to," Commission Chairman Keith Greene said.

He noted that last year's budget projected a deficit of $495,000, but rather than dipping into savings with one month remaining in the fiscal year, revenue is on track to exceed expenditures by about $300,000.

The county currently has more than $12 million in reserves, more than enough to cover shortfalls, that could remain untouched if the economy continues its upward trend and the costs are controlled, Henson said.

Overall, the proposed general fund budget adopted unanimously for 2012-2013 calls for a balanced budget of $22,059,252, an increase of 2.35 percent over last year's.