March 16, 2011

OC Board of Supervisors Considers Tax Hike

During last's week's Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting, dozens of concerned residents packed the meeting room inside the Gordon Building to show their support of emergency and education funding.  In the budget work session after the meeting the supervisors tentatively agreed to reinstate almost the full amount of emergency and waste collection funding, but have not yet amended county administrator Julie Jordan's proposed allocation for schools.

Reinstating complete funding for fire and EMS, as well as keeping all waste collection sites open, which Jordan had proposed to cut in a cost saving measure, would cost the county $655,036. To make up those funds the supervisors considered a one-cent increase to the real estate tax. However, that increase would not completely make up the reinstated funds, but would add roughly $500,000 to the general fund, according to interim finance director John Sieg.

"There was enough supervisor support to reinstate the funding for fire and EMS," said District 5 Supervisor Lee Frame, who also said funding for the waste collection sites would rely on a revised plan being developed by public works director Kurt Hildebrand.

Frame said that he would vote in support of a one-cent tax increase to help fund the collection sites and fire and EMS, but any additional increase would depend on the allocation of the funds.

District 1 Supervisor Shannon Abbs said she does not support a tax increase, unless it is the last effort to make up for needed expenses.

"I will not support a tax increase until the board of supervisors has gone through every line item," said Abbs. "We need to be able to say we've done our due diligence and at this point I don't think that's the case."

The county would save $129,285 by closing all eight waste collection sites and the landfill an additional day per week, according to Orange County Public Works Director Kurt Hildebrand. In Jordan's proposed budget, closing all waste collection sites, excluding the landfill, would save the county $453,772.

"There was not too much doubt that there was not much support for closing the collection sites," said Frame.
District 2 Supervisor Zack Burkett said he would not support a tax increase of any kind at this time.
"This is not the year for a tax increase," said Burkett. "This is the year for us to get serious about being business friendly."

At the March 15 budget work session, District 4 School Board Member Jerry Bledsoe and school superintendent Dr. Bob Grimesey presented the board updated figures in state and federal contributions to schools. State funding has increased $261,517 since the budget was presented in early February, but federal funding has dropped $29,907.

At the the highest priority of unmet needs in the proposed budget is the restoration of 10 elementary school teachers' aides, which would cost $215,372.

"The absence of instructional assistant positions was missed almost immediately following the return of our elementary school students last fall," said Bledsoe in a letter to the board. "Their absence caused a serious degrading of our capacity to provide [essential services] in grades K-5."

When speaking about potential cutbacks, the board noted that they instructed Jordan to cut her proposed budget to the bone and that they all appreciated her efforts. In looking for additional cuts Frame was reluctant to name any specific department, given the already thin budget proposal.

"I'm concerned about making cuts too deeply," said Frame. "At some point the ability to perform a function begins to atrophy."

At this Thursday's budget work session the board is expected to revisit and possibly settle on a proposed tax increase to advertise.  That figure is likely to be advertised as a two-cent increase on the real estate tax.  Tax rates can be lowered after advertisement, but they can not be increased.

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