The Die Is Cast

editorial-logo3So, the die is cast, so to speak, and the County budget has been laid to rest for the fiscal year 2018/19. The full body followed the budget committee and will use the hospital lease money to balance the budget. The arguments for and against both had merit. Hospital lease money has historically gone into its own fund and has been the cushion that has allowed the County Commission to dip into the general fund with ease of mind. The balance on the hospital reserve fund is around $6 million dollars and that is a generous balance to say the least. Annually, it increases by around$750,000 for the hospital lease. Well, until this year and the years after this unless something big happens in the County. The Commission voted to use the better part of this year’s lease contribution to balance a budget that was looking at a $800,000 plus hole.

For the opponents of using the lease money to balance the budget, the reasons varied. A few were concerned about future lease terms that might not be so favorable to the County and it is true that the lease will be renegotiated in a few years. By obligating the lease funds from this year to pay for reoccurring items, that money is also obligated in the future. Well, it is obligated unless the County comes up with another way to cover those reoccurring items like a huge increase in sales tax or around 7 pennies on the property tax rate. And, that would just get them back to a level playing field, assuming that next budget season brings absolutely no increases in anything ( which is highly unlikely). But let’s face facts, most knew from the get go that there were not going to be any winners this budget season. Sales tax was flat at best, it has been five years since the last property tax increase and the County budget has been cut so deep to the bone it barely even bleeds anymore. Where do you go for money when the well runs dry?

Those that voted to use the hospital lease money plead the case that it is hard to go to citizens for more money when you are sitting on six million dollars and increasing that balance by three quarters of a million every year. Politically, this is a bad year for a property tax increase. The entire County Commission is up for election in August and some are actually opposed. Property tax increases tend to scare politicians much more than they do the average citizen. Most residents of Jefferson County are not large land holders and a few pennies increase on the property tax rate just doesn’t, realistically, add up to much for the average home owner. Add to that the fact that many pay their property taxes with their monthly mortgage and it just isn’t the crisis that many politicians make it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, they are charged with being fiscally responsible but that sometimes means planning ahead rather than just guarding the County coffers like a dog with a bone. I have suggested for several years that small, incremental property tax increases of a couple of pennies every so many years would go almost unnoticed by most residents. Now, large land owners are another matter but they are few and far between these days. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the cheap seats don’t come with a vote.

Then again, maybe we should try looking way outside the box to generate a little revenue. It has been suggested to me by a good friend that it may be time to take another look at the guidelines for green belting. While there are some legitimate property owners that benefit from green belting, owning a horse and a tractor to mow your lawn should not qualify you for a tax break. I say that in jest because the stipulations are more stringent that that but they tend to benefit many who are as much a farmer as I am ( and I am a city chick). My friend swears that the financial benefit from just a small adjustment in the green belt guidelines would greatly financially benefit Jefferson County. He has done the numbers and I haven’t but, if he is anywhere near correct, it deserves some consideration. Granted, that may be a long road to travel but if you never start, you never get anywhere.

Anyway, this budget season is officially in the bag. Like it or lump it, it is done. Unless, of course, Mayor Palmieri decides to use his right to Veto and there is every chance that he will, or maybe not. This is his final County budget and the Commission looked favorably on the non profits this year. The Mayor has been a vocal advocate for CARE, which walked away well funded, and he may not want to rock the boat. As relationships with the County Commission go, this year’s has been much smoother for the Mayor and the full body. There is only a couple of months of service left for both parties and it will be interesting to see if it goes out with a bang or if it just calmly drifts away. The ball is in Palmieri’s court and I have never seen him step away from a serve. To veto or not to veto: that is the (almost) final question.

Independence Day is upon us and I hope that you and yours have a wonderful holiday. No matter what our differences, it is our joint blessing that we live in a county, state and nation that is filled with liberties that others can only dream about obtaining. I am forever grateful to those that took the risk, fought the hard fight and signed the paper. God has truly blessed the United States of America and I am proud everyday to be an American. From the Jefferson County Post, Happy 4th of July!

Source: K. Depew, News Director