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Jefferson County Legislators vote to raise tax levy by $116,000

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A panel of Jefferson County legislators voted Wednesday to add $116,625 to the 2014 budget proposed by County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III, bringing the $242 million spending plan to within $1,375 of the limit imposed by the state property tax cap.

The Finance and Rules Committee wedged three additional requests for funding into a budget that many legislators have called the most challenging they have ever seen.

“Folks, we had $118,000 in extra room in the budget. We walk right up to the line with that. We have exhausted all options,” said Finance and Rules Committee Chairman Scott A. Gray.

Last week, during two budget workshop sessions, a handful of department representatives came before the board with requests for additional funding. Only three of those requests made the cut during the committee meeting Wednesday night.

The Finance and Rules Committee recommended that the full Board of Legislators increase the salaries of the two county election commissioners by $1,500 and the salaries of the two deputy election commissioners by $1,000.

The committee also recommended that an additional $75,000 be provided to the County Highway Department to finish a culvert project and that an additional $9,500 be provided to the Office for Aging for office supplies and adult day care expenses.

Other requests, including the Sheriff’s Department’s requests for deputies and security upgrades, lost out.

The full board will hold a public hearing next week before voting on the budget.

The most heavily debated change came in the form of a proposal to add money for one additional dispatch position to the budget of the Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Department.

The Finance and Rules Committee recommended that the board add $27,125 in salary and related benefits to the budget. The position would not be filled until July.

The move was a compromise between legislators and Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer, who asked for the ability to hire three additional dispatchers last week.

Mr. Plummer said the additional dispatchers would enable his department to cut overtime costs from $240,000 to $90,000.

Thomas J. Fossett, a corrections officer at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building and a member of the Jefferson County Employees Local 3089 union, appeared before the Finance and Rules Committee to ask legislators to reconsider the decision to hire only one dispatcher next year.

Dispatchers are overworked and morale in the department is low, he said.

The addition of three dispatchers would help alleviate scheduling conflicts and reduce overtime, according to Mr. Fossett.

The measure had its supporters on the board; the most vocal was Michael W. Behling, R-Adams.

Mr. Behling moved that the board impose a small tax on cell phones to procure the revenue for the three additional positions. The tax would create an additional $200,000 in revenue, according to Mr. Hagemann.

The proposal eventually lost steam after it was revealed that the tax would require home rule legislation from the state Legislature in order to go into effect.

Mr. Gray promised an aggressive agenda in the first quarter of 2014 that would identify ways to fund certain projects more efficiently. He urged board members to take their time in considering proposals like the cell phone tax.

And while compromises were made with some department heads, others walked away completely empty-handed.

Jefferson County Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau asked board members last week to reconsider a decision to cut two vacant deputy positions from his department.

The positions were not added back into the budget.

And none of Mr. Trudeau’s other requests, which included money to repair secure door locks at the jail and to add storage space for evidence, were included in the revised budget, either.

According to the revised budget, the tax rate would rise 2.21 percent, going from $6.43 per $1,000 of true value in 2013 to $6.58 per $1,000. A property with a true value of $100,000 would see an increase in county taxes of $15 a year under the plan.

Mr. Hagemann proposed increasing the tax levy — the amount to be raised by taxes — from $48,619,644 to $50,265,644, an increase of $1,646,000.

According to Mr. Hagemann’s budget, the tax rate would have risen 1.97 percent.

With the additional $116,625, the tax levy is now $50,382,269.

The public hearing on the budget will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Board of Legislators Chambers on the second floor of the Historic County Courthouse, 195 Arsenal St.

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