BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — A tax increase for the proposed 2013-14 Vermilion County budget is causing some opposition among Vermilion County Board members.
Vermilion County Board members are scheduled to vote on the budget and levy at their Tuesday meeting. The rate and levy have been on public display for the last month.
Board chairman Gary Weinard said some board members — both Republican and Democrat — has questioned the upcoming fiscal year’s budget and levy, possibly as a result of the small tax increase. The tax increase is the first in several years.
The proposed budget will be a deficit budget with figures similar to the budget passed by the county last year. The deficit figure will be $1.08 million, a little more than $20,000 more than last year’s budget.
“We think with some prudent management we will be able to end up at not nearly that amount,” Weinard said, noting unused funds returned by officeholders and department heads pulling the county into the black each of the last two years.
An increase for the Public Safety Building to cover the Juvenile Detention Center, which the PSB took over last year, eliminated that possibility of no tax increase. The payment — which totals $500,000 — was covered in the budget last year by fund balances.
The increase will equal out to $5.60 for a person who pays a $1,000 property tax bill, $14 on a $2,500 tax bill and $27 on a $5,000 property tax bill. For a $1,000 tax bill, the increase is ½ percent increase in the overall tax bill and 3.6 percent increase in the county’s portion of the bill.
Five board members — John Criswell of District 5, Mike Dodge and A.J. Wright of District 7, Dennis Miller of District 6 and Terry Stal of District 4 — all voted against putting the budget up for public display at the board’s October meeting. Rick Knight of District 3 joined the other five in voting against the levy in October.
Stal, at that meeting, questioned the county’s change from using fund balances to stave off property tax increases like in previous years. Knight indicated he could not vote for the levy because he told his constituents he wouldn’t support a tax increase.
According to Weinard, he has not received complaints from county residents. Those he has talked to consider the small increase a “fact of life,” he said.
“Most people look at it as one of those things that just happens,” he said. “Things do cost more and you need to increase revenue to meet those needs.”
According to county numbers, the fund balance for the county’s general fund has dropped from $9 million in November 2007 to less than $8 million in November last year. Estimates predict the fund will drop closer to $5 million by November 2014.
According to Weinard, some believe the county can work off of $30 million in cash balance.
“But the cash is in a dedicated fund that can’t transfer money out to pay something else,” he said. “The law doesn’t allow me to do that.”
Only a simple majority of the county board is needed to pass the budget and levy at Tuesday’s meeting. By law, the county must have a budget in place by the beginning of the next fiscal year, which starts on Dec. 1. The county can not operate without a budget.
“If they’re not willing to support what’s being proposed, I hope they’ll stand up and say where it is they think that cuts should be made,” Weinard said, noting that if a budget can’t be reached the county “won’t open its doors” on Dec. 1.
In addition to unused funds from county offices to help the deficit budget, the county is also expecting a $15 million increase in assessed valuation, but officials will not know for sure until late winter whether that will come to fruition. County officials estimate another $500,000 could be coming as a result of payments owed the county when it owned the former Vermilion Manor Nursing Home.
Funds from the recent sale of the nursing home were used to bolster the county’s FICA and IMRF funds as well as the capital improvement fund for future county building repairs. Funds from the sale of long-owned county farmland are also expected to go toward capital improvements for postponed maintenance in many of the county’s buildings.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, board members will vote to put 120 acres of land near the former Vermilion County nursing home up for sale by auction.
Brian Neville of Farmers National gave a presentation to finance committee members on Monday, explaining the cost and the benefits of the land. He cited a recent example where land in the Hoopeston area sold for $11,900 per acre.
At $11,000 per acre, the county-owned property would sell for around $1.3 million, he said.
According to Weinard, he wants to see the returns from the land sale put aside in the county’s capital improvements account rather than go into operating expenses.