2019 County Budget Hearings – Debt, Taxes, Revenue, Future

The budget hearings occurred Aug 20-21.  Agendas below.

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF).  The 2019 Budget will be balanced with no indications that a tax increase will be required.  However, future spending and revenue projections indicate higher taxes on fewer people.  Assessed value – from which property taxes are derived, has not been keeping pace with inflation which adds pressure to increase income taxes.

The IU/SPEA Graduate student assessment on the Brown County economy concluded that the current policy of high income and low property tax may not be sustainable.

Observations and Commentary

  • Good to attend at least one meeting.  This is the second year I’ve attended the budget hearings that are sparsely attended by members of the public.  I would recommend that citizens attend at least one to get an appreciation for the process.
  •  A big thank you to the Council, Commissioners, the Auditor’s Office and all the other county offices who defended their budgets and made the needed changes.
  • Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA). On the cost of living issue, Keith Baker led the development of an extensive fact-based salary study that compared pay and benefits to other counties of our similar size. The study identified the need for a few modest adjustments that were approved by the council. Overall, with the changes, the conclusion was that pay and benefits were competitive to the extent that a cost of living increase was not recommended this year. I applaud the leadership of Keith Baker and the council on this issue.
  • A budget process is usually tedious and hard work. Typically, you look at the past 2-3 years of expenses and revenue and work to balance the current budget with expected revenue.  As things change during the year, you make adjustments.  When you can’t balance the budget, you look to increase tax or cut/delay spending.   A tax increase was not justified in the budget hearings.
  •  “Adjustments” –Per State law,  are made via transfers between accounts that have to be approved by the council and identified through public notices in the Democrat.
  • The fact that there will be unexpected expenses is predictable but not the amount. Consequently, “contingencies” are built into some accounts.  In 2018, un-unbudgeted expenses included the following:  $270K for the Regional Board,  $77,545.60 to settle the Van Buren VFD issue, and legal expenses of 30K for Maple Leaf.
  • Concerns?  Upward trends in drug-related crimes have a chain reaction effect on the Courts, Probation, Prosecutors Office, Child and Family Services, Schools, Sheriff’s Department, and community.  This can lead to significant increases in costs that may contribute to the need to increase taxes and/or cut costs in other areas.
  • Our current tax policy of high income and low property combined with the projected loss of population is very unlikely to meet the county’s needs.  Good timing that we will be starting the community conversations on an economic strategy.
    • Debt. We have the third highest debt per capita in the state. (This debt includes $12.5  million for Maple Leaf.  Although collateral is any profits and revenue from the innkeeper’s tax, the debt can be transferred to the taxpayers. Ref: Debt Comparison Report by County
    • Income Tax: We are the 5th highest in the State.
    • Property Tax.  Although we are among the lowest in the State for property tax rates, property taxes can increase every year based on the market.  The county and schools can also add additional taxes.
    • Local Tax and Finance Dashboard. Ref: Indiana Gateway. From 2012-2017:
      • County Property Tax rates increased by 33%.
      • County Total Tax Levy increased by 40.4%.
      • Certified net assessment (from which property tax is derived), increased by 5.5% (cumulative) which is below the inflation rate. This contributes to the need to raise income taxes.
  • Population Growth Projections. Stats Indiana.  Population peaks in 2020 to 15,393 and decreases to 13,281 (2040) 12,785 by 2050.
  • Convention Visitors Commission (CVC) Budget. Only included a line item for the expected revenue and expense.  The CVC contracts with the  Convention Visitors Bureau (CVB) for marketing services. The CVB budget, which would have included the additional detail on the expenses, was not included in the presentation which has been the past practice. The Maple Leaf Management Group will be receiving revenue from the innkeeper’s tax via the CVC to cover mortgage obligations and perhaps other expenses as well.  The budget review and approval process for the Maple Management Group is TBD.

2019 County Budget Hearings – Agendas

Mon Aug 20. Brown County Council — 5 p.m., County Office Building, for budget hearings. Tentative schedule: 5 p.m., budget discussion and other unit reviews; 5:20 p.m., circuit court and probation; 5:40 p.m., prosecutor; 6 p.m., clerk and election board; 6:15 p.m., public defender; 6:30 p.m., recorder; 6:40 p.m., treasurer; 6:50 p.m., auditor.

Tue Aug 21. Brown County Council — 5 p.m., County Office Building, for budget hearings. Tentative schedule: 5 p.m., Area Plan Commission; 5:10 p.m., parks and recreation; 5:25 p.m., Veterans Affairs; 5:40 p.m., emergency management; 5:50 p.m., soil and water; 6 p.m., coroner; 6:10 p.m., surveyor; 6:20 p.m., Brown County Purdue Extension; 6:30 p.m., assessor; 6:40 p.m., county council.

Wed Aug 23. Brown County Council — 5 p.m., County Office Building, for budget hearings. Tentative schedule: 5 p.m., Area Plan Commission; 5:10 p.m., parks and recreation; 5:25 p.m., Veterans Affairs; 5:40 p.m., emergency management; 5:50 p.m., soil and water; 6 p.m., coroner; 6:10 p.m., surveyor; 6:20 p.m., Brown County Purdue Extension; 6:30 p.m., assessor; 6:40 p.m., county council.

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