Sanpete proposing $16.2 million budget, including 3.3 percent property tax increase
Need for pay parity drives increases, especially in Sheriffs, Assessor offices
By Suzanne Dean
MANTI—Sanpete County has released a draft budget of $16.2 million for 2020, up about $500,000, or 3.5 percent, from the current budget of $15.6 million.
The budget includes a 3.3 percent property tax increase, expected to generate about $150,000 in new property tax revenue, that was the subject of a public hearing just before Thanksgiving.
The Sanpete County Commission will meet next Thursday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. to adopt the budget and, in all probability, approve the tax increase. The meeting will be in the commission room in the county courthouse.
Thanks to population growth and a good economy, the county actually expects to bring in $245,000 in new property tax revenue that won’t come from the tax increase. The projected revenue would be from “new growth,” or new homes and businesses.
While property tax gets most of the attention, it actually makes up less than half of all tax revenue the county collects. And property taxes only pay for about 24 percent of the total county budget.
Sales tax, the next largest revenue source, is projected to be $1.17 million next year and to grow by about $60,000 in 2020 compared to 2019.
“Sales tax is up from last year. It looks good,” Lyons said.
Based on the 2020 budget, the county expects to bring in just over $8 million from all forms of taxes next year, compared to an estimated $7.5 million this year.
The next largest revenue category is “intergovernmental” money, mostly grants. The 2020 budget projects $2.2 million in that area, up $132,000 from last year.
“That’s based on grants awarded or that we expect to receive,” Lyons said. She credited Beverly Thomas, grant writer and statistician in the Sheriff’s Office, and Diane Keeler, director of the Children’s Justice Center, with helping bring in significant new grant revenue.
On the expenditure side, the budget shows the “general fund,” the part of the budget that pays for the bulk of county activities that affect the public, at $13.8 million next year, up 4 percent from the $13.2 million budgeted for last year.
The county also has seven special funds, where specific revenues come in and can only be spent for a pre-identified purpose. Examples are accounts for paying off the bonds that built the Sheriff’s Complex, for paying off construction costs on the Central Utah Counseling Center building, and money from a special assessment in certain parts of the north county that goes to the Indianola Fire Department.
The special funds add up to $2.5 million next year, up about $9,000 from last year.
But the biggest story in the 2020 budget is probably salaries. The nation and state have a labor shortage, especially in highly skilled positions, and the effects are reaching down to Sanpete County. The county is having trouble keeping employees, Lyons said.
Last June, county commissioners convened a committee to review every county job. The review considered the skills required, the longevity of the employee, and county pay versus pay for the same job statewide.
The review found that overall, county salaries were about 9 percent behind the state, Lyons said. So the budget takes steps to bring county pay up to parity.
In a few positions, the county was paying above the state average. Pay in those jobs didn’t change. In most other jobs, the budget includes raises ranging from 50 cents to $6 per hour.
The areas of most concern were the Sheriff’s Office and Assessor’s Office. At the public hearing last month, Commission Steve Lund said the county was “bleeding deputies,” as officers joined the Sheriff’s Office, and as soon as they were trained and had a little experience, moved to better paying jobs, mostly on the Wasatch Front.
The Sheriff’s Office budget for permanent employees, including deputies, is scheduled to go from $1.05 million last year to $1.2 million in 2020. That translates to a $146,225 increase, or about 14 percent.
Lyons said the state has raised the requirements for people who appraise property. As a result, the Sanpete County Assessors Office “just can’t get the people who are qualified.” It’s taking three to five years of on-the-job training before employees can go out on their own to do appraisals, she said.
Consequently, the personnel budget for the Assessor’s Office is going from $269,819 last year to $317,479 this year, an increase of about $480,000 or 18 percent.
Lyons said no changes were made between the public hearing last month and publication of the final draft of the budget.
She said all possible cuts had already been made during earlier budget deliberations. “There’s not any fluff in there,” she said.
She said departments heads are always looking for ways to trim costs. For example, the Sheriff’s Office found it cost less to lease patrol cars than to buy them, so now, it leases all its vehicles.
The Road Department used to have a full-time employee who cut weeds along roadsides. The department head found he could get by with two part-time employees who only worked when needed. That cut the budget for weed control from more than $90,000 last year to $25,800 this year, a $65,000 savings.
“We have a good team who try to do a good job for the taxpayers,” Lyons said. The county is solvent, with revenues exceeding expenditures and money going into reserves,” she said.
And working relationships are good, she said. “We have department heads who are willing to work with one another.”