Supervisors table budget amid COVID-19 concerns

By: 
Bethany Carson
Mid-America Publishing

This article is being offered free to all readers as part of ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. To our current subscribers and advertisers: Thank you for your support. If you are not already a subscriber, when you are financially able, please consider a subscription to the Eclipse to support our ability to provide local journalism. 

The Butler County supervisors tabled the 2020/2021 budget at their March 24 meeting amid concerns from constituents about the tax levy, as social distancing guidelines prohibited public in-person attendance of the meeting. The county was able to do this given a statewide budget deadline extension due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.

Per social distancing guidelines, no more than 10 people are permitted to gather in a room at one time. With the supervisors, county department heads, and one newspaper reporter in the board room, that quota was met, with some department heads having to sit outside the door.

Outside the courthouse, a group of 10-12 people gathered before the meeting to present their concerns about the tax levy being raised. The meeting was delayed a few minutes as Supervisor Greg Barnett stepped outside to talk with these citizens, hear their concerns, and reassure them that he would vote for tabling the matter.

Many concerned citizens dialed in on the telephonic conference call line for the public meeting.

“There has been a considerable amount of concern I’ve heard from constituents…” said Supervisor Rusty Eddy. “It’s been about a little bit more than just a proposed increase in taxes. There has been innuendo that we as supervisors are trying to run a budget through quickly under the cloak of coronavirus.”

With the state giving counties a deadline extension to April 30, Eddy suggested postponing the decision on the budget until closer to that date to allow Butler County citizens opportunity to comment on the revised proposed budget.

Auditor Liz Williams suggested April 21 as a suitable date to have the budget discussed at a public meeting again, with the hope of budget approval on the 28th.

Barnett expressed hope that the public could be physically in the room by that time, depending on how the situation develops with COVID-19.

“The perception out there, that this is something we’re trying to get done quickly without public knowledge is farthest from the truth. We’re not trying to shove something through…” Barnett said. “We’re taking public input, and a lot of comments. We’re working for you guys–with the public. We’re not trying to do anything to shove through something you don’t want. We want it known that we’re doing our best to do what we can with this budget.”

A motion was made to table the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget to April 21 for a public meeting, with the understanding that this date may change if the virus situation gets worse, and the state gives another extension.

Since the proposed county budget was originally published, the proposed levy rate increase has been reduced from $1.15 to 53 cents per thousand dollars of valuation. About 33 cents per thousand of this, goes toward paying off the bond taken out for the Trinity Rail project.

During the time for public comment at the end of the meeting, several Butler County residents presented concerns about administrative expenditures, the increase in the levy rate, its impact on the farm economy, how the agricultural rollback affects them, and the possibly harmful effect of an increased levy rate on the population growth that local school districts need to make ends meet.

“In our district, certified enrollment is down 45 students over the last three years; that’s over $300,000 we’re out. … This year, we cut our budget by $325,000, and over $500,000 in the past three years,” A-P school board member Dave Schneiderman said.

With less tax dollars coming in, the district has offered early retirement, incorporated operational sharing, streamlined transportation and reduced overtime, and they haven’t been able to give staff the raises they deserve. Recently, the board did an assessment on the school’s buildings, and between the sites, $3 million in repairs for heating and cooling, ventilation, and building infrastructure needs to be done. They district needs more families to move to town to increase enrollment. And Schneiderman is concerned that an increase in the county levy could discourage families from moving to the district.

“The increase we’re asking for this year is directly related to the Trinity Rail project in Shell Rock. We looked on this as an opportunity to bring a business into the county that can provide 260-odd jobs to bring families to our communities, and we thought of this as a good way to look at this as a possibility of getting more people to reside in Butler County to help our school systems,” said Barnett.

A more in-depth study of the budget will be published in next week’s paper. The current proposed budget is viewable at https://www.butlercoiowa.org/images/Agenda/budget_summary.pdf

In other news, the FY2020 Iowa DOT Butler County Secondary Roads Budget Amendment #2 was approved. This budget amendment is for the shouldering jobs on Sinclair and C55 that are funded by urban renewal/TIF dollars. This revenue-neutral amendment moves the projects ahead into the current budget year with a transfer of $1.4 million from bond funds.

April 7 at 9:05 a.m. was set as the date and time for a public hearing on the proposed FY2020 County Budget Amendment.

March 31 at 9:05 a.m. was set as the date and time for a public hearing on the Hummel new confinement feeding operation in Section 2-91-17 in Ripley Township.

The supervisors approved the Class A Liquor License Renewal for American Legion Tack-Barnett Post #268, Greene.

A utility permit for Franklin County REC to reconstruct service line near 22860 Franklin Ave. was approved.

The county updated policies for emergency paid leave for employees in light of new laws going into effect for public employers with regard to COVID-19.

An emergency supervisors meeting was held via a telephonic conference call on Sunday, March 29 to discuss further measures concerning employee safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was decided that each department head will establish whatever policies are necessary for the safety of employees during this unprecedented time to stop the spread of the virus while continuing the essential functions of government. Some county employees will work from home; however, for many employees this isn’t possible due to the nature of their jobs.

Category:

Parkersburg Eclipse News-Review
503 Coates St.
Parkersburg, IA 50665
Phone:  319-346-1461

Mid-America Publishing

This newspaper is part of the Mid-America Publishing Family. Please visit www.midampublishing.com for more information.