County bypasses millage for vets

September 10, 2011
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Instead of voting to create a millage to provide funds for indigent veterans, Kent County commissioners will make those dollars available from the county’s general operating budget.

The county’s Finance Committee dropped the request to consider the dedicated millage last week after Commissioner Roger Morgan suggested appropriating an additional $100,000 from general operations, or the budget’s fund balance, and add those dollars to the $169,500 the county already allocated this year to a fund that helps needy servicemen and women. The additional dollars would give the veterans’ fund a bit more financial depth than a new millage.

Morgan’s suggestion was upheld on a 7-to-1 vote by the committee. “This action can stand on its merit within our budget process,” said Morgan. “I place a real high priority on this kind of funding.”

But Commissioner Jim Talen saw the situation differently. He said the committee had a chance to reduce expenditures from general operations by $169,500 by going forward with the millage, a move that was agreed to by the county’s millage review subcommittee. Instead, Talen said the county would raise expenditures to the budget by the $100,000 the committee approved, after having made sizeable cuts from the general fund for at least the past five years.

“I remain baffled by this amendment. The state has given us a tool to provide funding for this important service,” said Talen of the 1899 state law that allows counties to levy a millage for this purpose.

The proposed millage would have been for 0.01 mills, would have been levied in December, and would have cost property owners $1 for every $100,000 of taxable value. A homeowner with a $150,000 house would have been assessed $1.50 on the December property-tax bill, which also includes the county’s corrections and senior millages, and the millage would have generated an estimated $205,000 in 2012 to assist poor veterans.

“I can’t believe that people will complain about $1.50 per household to fund these services,” said Talen.

“Any additional taxes that we would impose on our residents will be a burden,” said Commissioner Jim Saalfeld. As of last week, County Administration and Controller Daryl Delabbio said next year’s general operating budget has about $50,000 more on the ledger in expenses than is expected in revenue, before allocating $100,000 to the veterans’ relief fund.

Commissioners will have to transfer $25.6 million from general operations next week to six budgets that have the same fiscal year as the state, which starts Oct. 1. The transfer is the county’s share of the $69.3 million the six need to operate in the coming year, as most of the remaining funds come from the state.

The two child care funds, the Health Department, Friend of the Court, a special projects fund and the Veterans’ Trust Fund, which is separate from the relief fund, make up the six. The 2012 total budget is down by $3.3 million from last year, while the county’s share is down by 7.5 percent from 2011.

County commissioners agreed last week to allow the Gerald R. Ford International Airport to refund a 30-year bond worth $56 million that was issued in 1998 and used to renovate and expand the main terminal building. The new bond issue will not exceed $46 million and will carry the county’s triple-A rating and its full faith and credit. The gross interest savings from the new issuance is expected to be $4.3 million, while the net “present value” savings is projected to be $3.2 million or 7.5 percent of the refunded bonds.

GFIA Finance and Administration Director Brian Picardat said the airport would save $255,000 each year on interest payments through refunding.

“My expectation is it will not affect our bond rating,” said County Fiscal Services Director Stephen Duarte.

“It reduces the cost for the airlines to do business out there,” added Commissioner Dick Vander Molen.

The county, though, will keep an eye on how the issuance affects its credit rating and that the refunding delivers a net present value of at least 5 percent, which it currently does.

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