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November 20, 2013

Levy for proposed Essex Co. budget up 15 percent

Part of 5-year plan to stabilize Essex Co. finances

ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers are looking at a proposed budget with a 15 percent tax-levy increase next year.

The rise is part of a five-year plan to stabilize county finances, County Manager Daniel Palmer said.

The tax-levy hikes would be 15, 10, 8, 5 and 2 percent a year over the next five years.

The alternative is a 33.9 percent tax increase in 2014, Palmer said, to accomplish stabilization in one year.

“It was determined a compromise would be used,” he said. “The (state) auditors pointed out the tax levy is simply too low for this budget.

“This budget has capital improvements to fix roofs we haven’t touched in five years.”

FUND BALANCE ISSUES

A recent audit of county finances by the State Comptroller’s Office took the county to task for using too much of its accumulated fund balance to lower the tax levy in recent years.

The County Board of Supervisors budgeted a total of $12.3 million from the general fund’s fund balance for 2010, 2011 and 2012 to reduce the levies for those years.

“The audit criticized us for using fund balance,” Palmer said. “Most counties, like us, chose to use their fund balance. It’s a problem with the tax cap.”

Since the proposed budget exceeds the county’s 2 percent state tax cap for next year, the Board of Supervisors set a public hearing on a tax-cap override for 9:15 a.m. Monday, Dec. 2.

Only Supervisors Sharon Boisen (I-Essex) and Supervisor Randy Prest

on (I-Wilmington) voted against the cap-override resolution, with Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva) out of the room on business. 

A final vote on the cap will be taken after the public hearing.

LESS FUND BALANCE

The public hearing on the county budget itself is at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26, in the Old County Courthouse at Elizabethtown.

The tentative budget raises $18.9 million from property taxes, 15 percent more than this year’s $16.4 million.

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