Mills County’s budget for next year is going down.
The Mills County Board of Supervisors has formally approved the county’s 2014-2015 budget at $21.7 million. That figure is nearly $6 million less than the county’s 2013-2014 fiscal year budget.
“That cut is due directly to the jail bond coming off the books,” said Mills County Auditor Carol Robertson.
County residents passed a $6.4 million bond issue for the construction of an 18,000 square foot jail and law enforcement center in August 2012. The project was included in the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget as a “capital expense.”
That project is scheduled to be completed this year, leaving just over $2 million of that expense on the 2014-2015 budget. With the bulk of the bond coming off next year’s books along with belt-tightening cuts in other departments, the county’s budget is down nearly $6 million for the next fiscal cycle.
A closer look at the next year’s budget, which begins July 1, 2014 and ends June 30, 2015, reveals tax asking is up for next year slightly from $7.3 million to $7.5 million this year. The county’s general basic levy will remain at $3.50 per $1,000 of taxable valuation, which means the total levy is down slightly to $9.6 per $1,000 of taxable valuation on county property for the next fiscal year.
Robertson said county budgets are never an easy process – especially in years when department cuts must be made. The county was able to come to a compromise with the compensation board, which sets county employee salaries, to lower employee raises from 3 percent to 2.5 percent, saving the county substantially, Robertson said. The county also cut $20,000 from public health and $40,000 from the county engineer’s budgets.
“We knew if we exceeded that (general basic) $3.50 levy this year, what happens next year and the year after and the year after that?” Robertson said. “Obviously our operating expenses are getting more (expensive) and the last thing we want to do is cut people so we had to make some hard cuts in some departments.”
Lonnie Mayberry, chairman of the Mills County Supervisors, agreed. He called the budget process a “wrestling match.”
“We tried to do our best to keep costs down as much as we possible could,” Mayberry said. “We think being able to compromise on the (2.5 percent) raises (for county employees) was important. Raises are always a hard issue.
“We have wonderful employees and a great staff from A to Z. Every once in a while, you have to take a step back and look at what you have to work with. It was across the board (cuts). It wasn’t just one department.”
The mental health and capital expenses line items saw the biggest increases in this budget round.
The county’s mental health expenditure shows a substantial increase in next year’s budget due to a pooling of the county’s expenses with a nine county regional mental health directive from the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services. The mental health line reflects an “on paper” increase from $361,180 to $2.1 million.
“We’re regionalizing,” Robertson said. “The tax dollars that we have in that fund balance goes to the region. The only thing we keep here is to pay for local people. We keep enough out of those tax dollars to pay salaries and benefits. It’s regionalizing by taking our cash balance and sending all of our monies to the region and they will pay the bills.”
The $1.5 million remodel of the county courthouse and upgrade was scheduled to be completed last August but remains unfinished. Delays due to electrical and construction issues have delayed the punch list completion of that project nearly six months. The remodel to the treasure’s office and driver’s license center is complete, as are a new east side entrance and vestibule, new elevators and secure prisoner transfer sallyport.
“We think we’re within a couple weeks (of completion), except for the exterior landscaping stuff. But we’re still waiting for some information from the architect and some figures,” Robertson said. “It’s mostly little stuff. The electrical I think is fine now. There’s nothing major but there’s a lot of little things.”
Robertson said there were some overruns in costs in the projects, but she said the county does have money available to finish the projects in this year’s budget.
Mayberry has had his share of criticisms of Rogge Construction, the general contractor on the courthouse remodel.
“I’m fairly happy with their work but the delays and the communication is what I have a problem with,” Mayberry said. “There’s been a lack of communication and we just want it to end. This has been drawn out long enough. But they’re still working on it and hopefully they’ll be done in a week or two.”
Mayberry has praise for Meco-Henne, the Omaha-based general contractor on the jail and law enforcement center.
“The jail is just going as smoothly as you can imagine,” Mayberry said. “They’re actually a little ahead of schedule. We’re elated with their (Meco-Henne’s) work.”
When completed, the jail will be staffed by four full-time jailers and take its operating expenses from the public safety budget line item. Next year’s budget reflects a jump from $3.05 million to $3.14 million.
Sheriff Gene Goos, who did a walk through of the jail construction site last Wednesday, is pleased with the progress and the work on the new jail.
“It’s starting to take shape,” Goos said. “You can see where everything is going to be on the jail side, but the administrative side - they were still packing dirt over there when we did the walk through - is still taking shape.”