After about a 30-minute budget hearing at its Aug. 21 meeting, Marion County commissioners voted 2-1 to approved a 1.5 mill increase for the 2018 budget.
Commission chair Randy Dallke and Commissioner Kent Becker voted in favor, Commissioner Dianne Novak voted against it.
A week earlier, Novak had asked Dallke and Becker if they would review the budget one more time to consider more reductions, but both declined, saying the budget was OK as it stood.
“Holding the mill levy at last year’s rate still would generate $307,403, which would reduce budget authority by just $130,000,” she said.
Novak’s rationale for holding the mill to the same amount was that it would help taxpayers with the reinstatement/increase of the state’s income tax.
During the budget hearing, economic development directors Randy Collett of Marion and Anthony Roy of Hillsboro questioned the need for a tax increase with so much money in cash reserves.
“The cash reserves have been climbing since 2009 when the total amount then was $8 million,” Collett said. “This unencumbered cash went up for two years, then dropped to 2009 levels and every year since (2012 to 2017) has climbed.”
By the projected end of 2017, Collett said cash reserves will reach almost $16 million.
Both economic development directors said they hear from prospective business persons who frequently talk about the level of taxation in Marion County.
“The concern we have is when that level of tax is compared with Harvey and McPherson counties, which we view as our competition, landing new businesses or residents make us seem to be an anomaly,” Collett said.
The long-term effect, he said, is the county won’t be able to attract businesses or residents because of the tax rate.
Impact of higher levy
County Clerk Tina Spencer said the 1.5 mill increase on a house appraised at $60,000 will mean an additional $21.53 in taxes next year.
She said in 2015 and 2016 the mill levy stayed the same, but in 2017 it was raised five mills to 74.126, primarily because of ambulance service, road and bridge and employee benefits.
The primary reason the mill is going up again in 2018 is because of ambulance service and employee benefits.
Novak re-read a statement, which was first read by Becker at the Aug. 14 meeting. The statement described the job of commissioners as setting policy and overseeing financial affairs.
The statement addressed hiring competent people, then giving them latitude to supervise their respective departments. Any interference by the commission, he stated, would only cause mistrust and anxiety.
Novak said she found the statement to be hypocritical.
Her reasons ranged from not wanting to review the budget one last time to reduce taxes to “throwing (Road and Bridge director) Jesse Hamm under the bus with the formation of a (road) committee.”
Ed Debesis, EMS director, addressed Novak about comments she made at the Aug. 14 meeting related to overtime pay, and that he didn’t disclose the amount of overtime earnings of those hired full time.
Debesis said Novak’s statements Novak were inaccurate and that she was misinforming the public.
He said he also objected to Novak’s statement about his budgeting skills, when in fact, he not only met the budget,but was under budget in 2016.
Near the end of their heated discussion, one thing was accomplished. Debesis said: “If somebody is in need, I will go help, because I care about patients and employees.
Novak conceded that Debesis has a “passion to fight” for his employees.
Novak said that she, too, must fight, but in her case it is as a financial overseer for her constituents.
“It looks like we will agree to disagree,” Debesis said regarding the personnel schedule.
“Then I will look forward to a couple of years of fights,” she said.
The commissioners, in other business:
• heard Debesis report ambulance crews had 110 runs in July, with Hillsboro high at 50.
In regard to billing, addition, Debesis said, “In July, we billed out $55,666, and brought in $44,948. The year-to-date billed out is $521,866 and we brought in $303,771 with $187,807 written off.”
• learned that Debesis and Joshua Clevenger, also employed with EMS, began instructor/coordinator classes so they can teach EMT classes after completing the coursework.
There are individuals interested in taking EMT classes this fall, he said.
“If anyone else is interested in taking an EMT class, please have them contact me,” he said.
• talked with Marion County Park and Lake Superintendent Bryan Metz, who presented flooring bids for the lake house.
The winning low bid of $3,773.50 came from The County Seat, Marion; Supreme Floor Co. from Hillsboro bid of $4,300.
• spoke about a public meeting at the Marion County Lake Hall regarding open burning regulations for the season.
Commissioners were given the most recent version of the resolution requested by the fire chiefs for review prior to that meeting.
Six county fire chiefs were proposing tougher burn regulations, and changes were proposed to make it safer for landowners and firefighters.
• approved a permit for Torey Hett to participate in a special hunt at the former Marion County landfill.
• learned about a moisture problem from the air conditioning ducts at the ambulance building, which was formerly AutoHouse.
• heard from Becker about an invitation for commissioners to tour progress on the new fine arts center at Tabor College. Becker was asked to set a date and time for the tour.