by Audrey Thomasson
LANCASTER—Two days prior to the 2018 fiscal year, Lancaster supervisors approved a $30.9 million spending plan and a 5-cent tax rate increase on real estate.
On June 29, chairman William Lee of District 4 introduced an amended budget that eliminated spot salary and benefit increases of up to 13%, mostly in the emergency management services department, and which gave an across-the-board raise of 3% to all county employees.
Holding all salary increases to 3% “…will save about $102,000 in salary and benefits,” said county treasurer Bonnie Dickson.
Lee’s motion included a clause that allows the board to revisit the salary issue again in two or three months. The motion passed by unanimous vote, 5-0.
District 3 supervisor Jason Bellows made the motion for a 5-cent tax rate increase, bringing the tax levy to $0.59 per $100 of assessed real estate value. The motion included a provision that 1-cent of the increase be obligated to new schools.
During a brief discussion, District 5 supervisor Wally Beauchamp warned about depressed real estate prices.
“In the next reassessment, we could be down 5% on property values,” he said.
According to county administrator Frank Pleva, the reassessment will take place in 2018.
Bellows’ motion on taxes passed, 4-1. Supporting the motion were supervisors Ernest Palin of District 2, Beauchamp and Lee. Casting the only opposition vote was Butch Jenkins of District 1.
Bellows acknowledged the additional burden to taxpayers but said it was in the best interest of the county. “This budget is looking toward our future,” he said. “It may cost more money” but will benefit us in the years ahead. Also, he noted elimination of the boat tax by supervisors three years ago has been effective for the local economy by producing jobs and boosting retail sales.
Personal property taxes remain flat at $2.04 per $100 of assessed value. The county has no tax on boats, farm equipment and animals.
The newly adopted budget estimates expenditures of $30,977,745, and projects revenue of $30,250,652, a shortfall of $727,093. The county will have to dip into the fund balance to cover the difference.
However, after the meeting, Dickson projected a fund balance June 30, 2017, of about $4,000,000, some $500,000 over the previous projections. She based her assessment on expected underspending by the school district and county departments.
“We have historically underspent (the budget) by about $2 million,” said Dickson.
The fund balance on June 30, 2018, is now expected to be about $3,473,832, added Dickson.