The Page County Board of Supervisors approved the county’s 2022 budget after a presentation from the auditor, public hearing and lengthy discussion at their March 9 meeting. Projected revenues for 2022 were $12,267,525; projected expenses were $12,577,543. Wellhausen said road projects and grant funding will likely make up any perceived budget shortfalls.
Page County Auditor Melissa Wellhausen presented a power point detailing some of the basics of where the county’s budget comes from and how it is calculated, and comparing current expenses to expected expenses.
Wellhausen explained the county’s levy is dollars generated by tax. The assessor and the Department of Revenue determine valuations of property within the county; the county sets the rate of taxes against that property, in accordance with limits set by the Code of Iowa. Money received from those taxes as well as other sources is the basis of the county budget, with property taxes being the bulk, at about 53 percent.
Levy rates are set for things such as, General Basic, General Supplemental, Mental Health Services, Rural Basic and Debt Service-E911. In the prepared budget, levy rates for fiscal year 2022 were set the same as they had been for 2021 in all cases but Mental Health and Debt Service-E911. Those rates were lowered slightly resulting in a total levy rate of $9.89237 per $1,000 valuation for 2022, versus $9.95986 for 2021, a $0.06749 decrease. Valuations of both rural and urban properties had increased from 2019 to 2020, by about $20,812.949 in total. Supervisors pointed out that with increased property valuations, the lower levy rate might not appear to make any difference to county residents when they pay their taxes.
Wellhausen broke the county’s expenditures down by service area, showing that the top three expenses were: roads at 39.87 percent, public safety/legal services at 24.43 percent and administration at 14.18 percent. A salary comparison from 2021 to 2022 showed a 4 percent increase in 2022, but insurance costs were down by 8 percent for 2022.
Wellhausen pointed out the following reasons for increases in expenditures for 2022:
• Public Health for additional employees and overtime;
• Miscellaneous court-ordered services to pay for shelter services;
• Medical Examiner expenses;
• Juvenile Court services for increased usage, and
• Secondary Roads for level of effort.
Supervisor Jacob Holmes pointed out the insurance cost decrease was a big help, but the county needed to rein in some of their expenses since they couldn’t guarantee insurance costs would decrease again in future.
Supervisor Chuck Morris announced he was aware there had been some concern over proposed salary increases of 4 percent. He pointed out these increases were recommended by the compensation board, an impartial group of citizens, and that the supervisors have always tried to honor the compensation board’s recommendations.
Morris said he had been thinking more like 2.5-3 percent increases, but was not against the 4 percent, as county employees had worked harder and more efficiently over the past year than ever before, while dealing with the pandemic. Morris also pointed out the road use tax had not dropped off the board like they had expected, so revenue wasn’t as big an issue as expected.
Some citizens at the meeting spoke up and questioned how wage increases were figured, whether they were based on comparing to other counties. Morris said it was hard to compare to other counties, based on various factors like size and overtime. He said Page County Supervisors were probably paid a little above other area counties and the Sheriff and County Attorney a little less than others.
Others asked if whether an employee was already receiving higher than average pay was taken into consideration in figuring raises. Morris said it was not, and when it had been done in the past it had caused considerable strife.
Ryan Urkoski spoke out against raising wages for the supervisors. He said comments had been made that the supervisors earned a raise because they had been called liars and verbally attacked more than once over the last year. He stated that was not a justification to give themselves a raise and raise the citizens’ taxes, though.
Holmes reminded the others when insurance costs went up, they would need to look seriously at any wage increase. Morris agreed, saying next year they could be hit with what didn’t happen this year and need to make adjustments. He cautioned, though, that they were better off giving raises now when they could afford to, as they didn’t want to kill morale by going two years with no or low wage increases.
Other citizens had concerns about rumors that there was no more road rock available from the county’s source in Braddyville, and how that might raise roads expenses.
Morris agreed he had also heard that, and said he had spoken with the Page County Engineer about other potential sources of road rock.
One citizen, Jane Stimson, said she had called the quarry and asked if the county was guaranteed rock as needed or it was sold on a first-come, first-served basis. She said she was told there was no contract with the county, but the county did give them an estimate of what they would need.
Stimson pointed out the companies putting in wind turbines were getting plenty of rock for their needs, and suggested the county needed to contract to ensure they had what they needed.
“We gotta’ do something,” Stimson announced, “because we’re gravelling corn fields and our roads are mud.”
Morris reminded those present there had also been some complaints about the quality of road rock the county was getting, so they were testing rock from different sources on different stretches of road. Morris noted that they had already been looking into additional rock sources before the current shortage, and costs were being taken into consideration.
With no more comments from the public, the hearing was closed, and the supervisors approved the 2022 budget by a vote of 2-1, with Holmes voting no because he was not in favor of the wage increase. Budget resolutions 16, 17 and 18-2021 were approved.
Brenda Esaias, Page County Recorder, talked to the supervisors about ArcaSearch, a system for digitizing documents. Esaias said the county had been paying $6-$10,000 every year for the preservation of documents. This year they decided to digitize their indexes and make them searchable. Projected cost for the program for 2022 is $43,000.
This system stores the information safely offsite, and could include even more documents and information once they were able to put that information online. Additionally, once the system is completed and searchable, the county might be able to add a user fee, so the system could help pay for itself.
The supervisors approved signing the ArcaSearch agreements.