The Monroe County Commission was scheduled to vote on a $50 increase to the wheel tax on Tuesday evening after The Advocate & Democrat’s press deadline, but in a workshop held Monday, the commission was still struggling with the idea and looking at other possibilities to raise revenue.
And revenue is the problem.
Monroe County Finance Director Libby Hicks said she has been telling people the new Justice Center has not been the reason for a shortfall in the budget.
“The money for the Justice Center has always been there in its own separate budget,” she said. “The problem is there hasn’t been any new revenue created since the 2012-13 budget when a 32-cent property tax increase was put in. Unfortunately, costs have kept going up and now we’re looking at a deficit in revenue.”
Overall, including the Monroe County School System budget, the commissioners have been looking at an expected $4.7-million-dollar shortfall in the budget. While that might not even be a blip on the radar for a big county budget, for Monroe County it’s a huge number.
The commission has cut all the “unnecessary” items they can find, including employee raises and drastically cutting donations to non-profits, but all of that was a small amount.
Every penny increase on the property tax rate would bring in $93,891, meaning it would take a tax increase of nearly 50 cents to balance the budget. As an example: If your house is worth $100,000, your property taxes would increase by about $120 a year.
The commission was set to vote on a resolution for the wheel tax increase, which would also balance the budget, on Tuesday (see www.advocateanddemocrat.com or our Facebook page to see how the votes fell) but the commission could also use the fund balance to cover the shortfall, but then the fund balance would be empty in a couple of years.
Hicks did have some good news, telling the commissioners that the Justice Center construction had actually come in under budget by $1.4 million, money that would go into the general fund and help some in the upcoming fiscal budget year.
“Also,” she added, “no money in this budget will go toward the Justice Center until they are actually in there. They might go in September, or it might be later, but it won’t be an operating cost until it’s being used.”
Angela Tallent from the County Clerk’s Office told the commissioners her department was already getting complaints from people who claim they could not pay what would be a total of $104 a year to renew their tags if the $50 wheel tax increase passes.
“People who can afford it will be all right with the increase,” Tallent said. “I’ll be all right, you all will be okay, but we have elderly people on fixed incomes and any increase in anything can ruin their lives.”
The commission did say they would look at the idea of making exceptions for people over age 65 who are on low fixed incomes to give them a little bit of a break if the wheel tax increase passed.
Commissioner Joe Anderson said a $25 wheel tax increase and a 25-cent property tax increase would cover the budget shortfall, but also said he was just throwing it out there as an idea.
The idea of increasing the sales tax was also floated, though there is very little left to pick off that bone. Any sales tax increase has to be voted on at the polls.
“This is your ball game,” Hicks told the commissioners. “We’ll give you all the information you need, but you have to make the decision. There’s really nothing else for us to tell you.”