Red Willow County commissioners approved a budget of $15,757,021.61 for 2009-10, down from $16,495,506 in 2008-09, after a public hearing and during their weekly meeting Monday morning.
The budget is down, but it requires more personal and real property tax money to fund it than last year.
Commission Chairman Earl McNutt attributed the decrease of $738,486 in the total budget to a decrease of $580,796 in the budget for Hillcrest Nursing Home and a decrease of $157,690 in budgets for funds that request tax dollars.
Commissioners did not increase the county's tax levy, but maintained it at 36 cents per $100 of valuation.
Because of an increase in the county's valuation -- from $647,401,315 in 2008-09 to $672,790,116 in 2009-10 -- tax collections will actually increase. The approved budget requires $2,422.044.42 in taxes, an increase of $91,400, up from $2,330,644.73 in taxes requested last year.
Commissioners, elected officials and department heads have worked for the past couple months to keep the budget in line and to keep the tax levy from increasing. Commissioners approved, not without misgivings, salary increases of 2 1/2 percent.
Hillcrest Nursing Home is a county-owned nursing facility, but it is not funded with tax money and requests no taxes. Administrator Peggy Rogers said this morning that the decrease in Hillcrest's budget is indicative of a trend across America that more elderly people are remaining at home.
"When the census goes down, the budget goes down," Rogers said. "We staff proportionately to the number of residents we have."
County commissioners have no control over the Hillcrest budget because it requests no taxes, McNutt said, although he added that because it is county-owned, the county is "ultimately responsible for its debt."
Commissioners asked county officials to trim their proposed budgets as close to the bone as possible, suggesting that they make cuts to offset increases in salaries. McNutt repeated this year what he's said for several budget-stress years. "We can't just keep raising the levy," he said. "There's a limit. We can't just raise taxes every year."
Commissioner Leigh Hoyt said the majority of the increase in budgets was in wages. "Most (department heads) tried to compensate," he said. Fellow commissioner Steve Downer said it may be possible to slow down budget growth by determining an amount available for each department, and expecting each department head to work within that amount.
Commissioners used a $350,000 transfer from inheritance last year to fund budget shortfalls, and are allowing for a $400,000 transfer this year. McNutt said the transfer will not be used if it is not needed. McNutt said that he and other commissioners across Nebraska defend their inheritance funds when the state tries to route the money into the state's coffers. "The state fights every year to take inheritance from the counties, and then distribute it back to the counties," he said. "It's a yearly ritual."
McNutt said the budget is a struggle every year. "We worked as hard as we could to maintain the levy at 36 cents," he said.