Supervisors hear comments on budget
Thursday, January 02, 2014 5:10 AM
Although each year the Winneshiek County Supervisors give a "little more" money to area organizations, the amount budgeted is never equal to the amount requested.
That was one of the points made during a public comment session on the Winneshiek County budget, which the supervisors will be preparing over the next few months.
Supervisor Dean Thompson said historically, the county supports more than 20 "discretionary" organizations, such as nonprofits, the Winneshiek County Historic Preservation Commission, the Historical Society, Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness and more.
"Last year, $453,000 was requested, and we budgeted $387,000. Looking back over the past five years, each year this Board has allocated a little bit more to those 20-some accounts ... never matching requests, but always giving a little more (than the year before)," said Thompson.
Ferniva Brimacomb, president of the Winneshiek County Historical Society (WCHS), said she was on-hand to ask the supervisors "to really give some consideration for historic preservation and historical sites in Winneshiek County."
When Supervisor John Logsdon said, "We try," Brimacomb agreed, but added in recent years the county has actually decreased its funding to the WCHS.
"We have issues like anyone else," she said, noting the supervisors turned the management of Locust School over to the WCHS several years ago.
"We took on the preservation of that school that has historical significance. This year it needs a new roof and we will have to repair the east wall," she said, adding when the organization repaired the west wall several years ago, it cost $20,000.
"We do have quite a bit in our budget that we will be required to use as match money (for grant requests). My request is to ask for as much help as you might be able to give us," added Brimacomb.
Boyd Wasson of Decorah said while the Locust School has some funds, they don't come close to covering the repairs that will be needed. He said in recent years, the county has dropped its funding from $4,500 to $1,000.
"It would sure make it easier if we had that funding resumed again," said Wasson.
Logsdon replied, "Years ago, we used to 'rubber stamp' and that was fine. But anymore, you find counties looking into the finances of these organizations requesting funds ... Sometimes we're looking at a balance of whatever, it makes it tough to say, 'Yeah, let's give them $5,000 or $10,000 when they have this reserve."
Wasson replied in the case of WCHS, there is a fund donated by an inheritance designated as a museum fund.
"Some of our donations are given with specific earmarks. We have to be responsible to our donors to use them in that nature," said Wasson.
"It would be wonderful if we could move those funds to fix this wall problem ... but we have a problem of being responsible to our donors."
Supervisor Floyd Ashbacher said he thinks Winneshiek County and its department heads do a good job setting their budgets.
"The budgets we've seen are status quo with no big increases. The county's department heads are trying to get by with what they can," said Ashbacher.
"We've been rather impressed department-wise, but you never know what's going to come up."
When Wasson said he assumed there must be safeguards like a contingency fund in place for things like floods, Thompson said, "It's small."
Logsdon explained in the past, when departments had up to 40-45 percent carryover, "A couple groups decided that was way too much ... Right now we carry around 18-21 percent and I think that is bare bones."
Wasson said he thinks the county should consider raising local taxes to help itself.
"We send money to Washington, D.C. and it comes back as federal aid. We send money to Des Moines and it comes back as state aid. It was our money to begin with ... If we tax ourselves, we control it. When it comes back from these other sources, there are other controls," he said.
Thompson explained the Board of Supervisors controls a "small part of the overall levy."
Logsdon said right now the county controls 28 percent of the property tax levy.
When Kevin Lee of Decorah asked what the impact of Allamakee County recently closing their "county farm" might be on Winneshiek County, Logsdon said since the state's new mental health redesign, which reorganized the state into mental health service "regions," the patient's county of origin (residency) does not matter.
"There is no wrong door. The residency factor is completely out of it now," said Logsdon.
Logsdon explained the Legislature recently mandated that each county tax $47.28 per capita to be used for mental health services.
"It reduced our per capita," said Logsdon, explaining Winneshiek County was collecting more than 60 cents per capita, "but a lot of counties weren't even paying that much (the $47.28) ... Now everybody is paying the same."
Logsdon lamented in 1996, the state promised to pay counties several hundred thousand dollars to revamp their mental health services.
"It never came. The state's history of being honest is dismal at best. You never know. To be fair, they get hammered on by the feds," he said.
Logsdon added overall, he thinks the upcoming budgeting process will be "painless."
"We are a fairly affluent county, which comes from a lot of people doing a lot of things. I don't expect any huge dips, bumps or gouges, as long as we do what we're doing ... but I don't look for any monster increases," he said.