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County Budget Facing New Challenges

BY LEANN DILBECK –

Budget proposals for the 2014 Polk County budget are currently being prepared for the presiding Quorum Court and this year, they certainly have their work cut out for them as Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison explained, “Revenues have been static the past three years and inflation has eroded the county’s buying power.” To further complicate issues, the officials have just been notified that county employees’ health coverage will go up over 18%, totaling $107,000 to the county’s annual budget.

The Polk County Quorum Court consists of 11 members, each representing a district of differing geographical sizes, but of equal population. They have the responsibility of making county law as well as appropriating the individual budgets of the county officials.

“This year, their job is going to be extremely difficult finding a way to completely fund the budgets in the county General Account,” said Ellison.

The county General Funds are separate from Road and Bridge Funds, as is mandated by state law due to different revenue streams that are earmarked for certain purposes, i.e. fuel tax turn-back and separate millage on property taxes. Revenue dedicated by state law for road and bridge cannot be used for any other purpose. “Most rural counties, such as Polk County, find it necessary to supplement the road and bridge department with some county general money…just as we do.” Ellison explained the exorbitant increase in health insurance is related to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Approximately 75% of the county’s employees are paid wages and benefits out of budgets derived from county general. The road department employees are paid from the separate road and bridge budget. “The challenges are many; but, I assure you that our county officials and the Quorum Court will work together to find a solution to fund and pass the 2014 budget.”

Polk County has also spent money on repairs caused by the May 30 tornadoes and flood disaster but has not yet received the reimbursements from the appropriate sources. An exit conference was held with FEMA on October 15 that will, for the most part, conclude their officials being on the ground in Polk County, “except for some loose ends,” said Ellison. To date, Polk County has received $130,000 and expects to receive approximately $500,000 more. “My best estimate is that Polk County received $900,000 worth of damage to county infrastructure from the May 30 tornadoes and flood disaster. Except for the bridges that are out, all other major repair projects are complete.”

FEMA reimburses 75% for the projects they approve. The state will reimburse 12.5% with the county paying for the remaining 12.5%. “The state’s portion likely will be 10 months or longer coming in.”

Ellison plans to appeal FEMA’s denial for funding on the Polk 62 bridge due to the fact that their claim was based on an outdated inspection report that indicated there were problems with the structure.

Ellison said, while the challenges are many, he is still grateful to be serving the citizens of Polk County. “I truly enjoy my job.”

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