County Council works to balance 2010 budget PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 August 2009 00:00
      Members of the Washington County Council met in marathon sessions on Monday, August 10, and Tuesday, August 11, to hammer out the details of a proposed 2010 county budget.  Citizens will be asked to give input on the $6.5 million proposed budget at a public hearing meeting scheduled for September 22.  During the two days of discussion, debate, and decision making,  four issues seemed to consume the attention of council members much more than others on their agenda.
    First, concerns about the cost of the state-mandated property reassessment were relayed to the council by Washington County Assessor Jason Cockerill.  According to Cockerill, the Reassessment Fund has been used to pay for other expenses not involved in the reassessment process.  If that practice continues, Cockerill warned the council that in the event the state mandates  a rolling reassessment beginning in 2012, the fund will not have enough to cover the cost.  Cockerill explained that the state is considering very strongly the option of requiring 25 per cent of all property be reassessed each year to keep the information more current than it is now.  In other words, property reassessment would be an ongoing activity in the county.
    The council acted on Cockerill's advice and transferred some expenses to other line items and increased the amount to be set aside for upcoming reassessment expenses.
    The second issue that the council spent considerable time on was the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP)and Planning Commission.  Commission John Mishler told the council members that having the funds available to provide for a Planning Commission and a Planning Director is crucial to the success of the project and to the economic growth of the community.  The council agreed with Mishler's assessment of the importance of a CLUP and funded the positions as per the request.
    Another issue vexing the council for years and again the subject of lively discussion was the operation and cost of Delaney Park.  Park Manager Chris Strange and members of the Park Board addressed the council and stated that the park was not receiving its rightful funding based on the tax rate.  Council members explained that the funding provided by taxes goes down as the revenue generated by the park for its services goes up.
    Council members discussed the possibility of moving the park funding into a line on the Commissioners' Budget in the amount of $90K and removing it from the tax rate altogether.  After lengthy discussion, a motion to take that action died for lack of a second.  The council agreed to study the issue further and make a decision at their next regularly scheduled meeting in September.
    The final issue that drew a significant amount of focus by the council was concern about county liability for the hospital.  The current budget has $207K in it to pay for a capital improvement loan taken out by the hospital back in the early 1990s.  The question was raised as to the county's liability for that loan since all county assets and liabilities were transferred to Critical Access Health Services, a non-governmental entity, earlier this year.
    It was agreed that outside legal advice should be sought since the council's attorney, Mark Clark, noted that he had a conflict of interest.  Clark represents Mid-Southern Savings Bank which holds the mortgage on the hospital property that the $207K annual payment is intended to service.
    As a final piece of business, the council considered options of how to give county employees a $500 raise in 2010.  County employees received no raise in 2009.  No action was taken on the proposal.
    With no further business to conduct, the council adjourned next regularly scheduled meeting on September.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 August 2009 08:52