County announces budget with no tax increase

BROOKVILLE — The Jefferson County Commissioners Wedn-esday advertised the prop-osed budget for the 2011 fiscal year, and there will be no inc-rease on property taxes.

The property tax rate will remain at 10.75 mills of assessed property value.

County finance officer Deborah Gillung said it was “kind of a surprise” that a tax increase was not needed. This is the second consecutive year that the commissioners did not have to raise taxes.

Commission Chairman Paul Corbin said two factors contributed to the county not having to raise property taxes despite more than $500,000 in unexpected spending needed for repairs to the Jefferson County 911 Center.

First, the county saved more than $300,000 in debt service payments by refinancing existing bonds. The county’s financial standing improved earlier this year, and therefore, lower interest rates were available for borrowing.

In October, the county borrowed more than $12 million to pay off existing debt. The $12 million was borrowed at a lower interest rate, which saved the county money.

The other factor that allowed the county to maintain its current millage rate was the expiration of some Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) properties. The KOZ program was a tax abatement initiative that allowed exemptions from property taxes for those who developed properties.

The program was designed to give incentive to property owners to create jobs. Some of the properties that were in the program last year were removed this year, and increased revenue will be experienced.

The county also had to make a smaller contribution to its retirement fund than other counties of similar size. A contribution of $274,000 was needed this year, while similar counties are contributing more than $500,000.

The commissioners did not invest public pension funds in the stock market, as other county’s commissioners did. Therefore, the pension program was not underfunded when stocks depreciated in value.

The county also had an additional $200,000 in the beginning budget for the next fiscal year because the commissioners have managed to pay off debt that was created by yearly operating deficits.

The commissioners allocated $200,000 to reducing that debt the past three years, and that debt is now eliminated. This year, the budget has a positive ending fund balance more than $10,000.

“It has been a difficult struggle (to get out of debt),” Corbin said. “We have finally reduced the deficit that was on the books. We cannot sit here and take all of the credit for that. Our row officers, our employees, everybody has worked together to reduce costs.”

Throughout the debt reduction process, Corbin said the goal of the commissioners was to limit any tax increases that may have been necessary.

“We had to make some tough decisions,” he said. “We did what we thought would have the least impact on the taxpayers. We realize that times are tough. A dollar in your pocket is better than a dollar in ours. You know how to spend your money better than we do.”

Even though the county’s financial footing is improving, Corbin cautioned that spending should not increase.

“It doesn’t mean that we’ve turned the corner and we can now spend frivilously,” he said. “We must continue to monitor spending and revenues. You never know what mandates will be coming down from the state.”