Road projects, rains and runoff mostly explain a projected 13.9% increase in Lincoln County’s next budget after two years of flat spending and property tax requests.
County commissioners Monday held their first work session reviewing the first draft of the county’s 2019-20 spending plan. Discussions will continue next week, with public hearings and votes not planned until after Labor Day.
As initially assembled by North Platte accountant Susan Maline, who prepares the county’s budgets, next year’s total spending for all funds would be just over $50.7 million once necessary cash reserves are factored in.
However, nearly three-fourths of the projected $6.17 million increase in 2019-20 spending would come from two new county funds established after the County Board’s March 4 vote to issue $3.5 million in five-year road bonds.
The proceeds will be used for repaving stretches of Fort McPherson Road, Platte Valley Road, East State Farm Road and Walker Road, along with portions of paved roads in seven rural subdivisions.
The two new county funds — a $3.438 million Road Improvement Fund and $1.075 million Road Bond Fund — would respectively hold the bond proceeds and begin their repayment as projects are done.
Without the all-new funds, projected county spending would rise only 3.7% over the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the draft budget.
Meanwhile, the county’s regular roads budget and existing special road fund would rise by 8.5% and 8.1% respectively if adopted without changes by the County Board.
That’s where the impacts of Nebraska’s last six months of soggy weather can be seen, commission Chairman Joe Hewgley said Monday.
County road crews continue to grapple with flood damage to several rural roads, he said, though Lincoln County escaped the worst of March’s statewide “bomb cyclone” and subsequent storms that caused substantial flooding farther east.
Commissioners Monday discussed staffing and equipment needs in the county roads department, by far the largest of the departments under the County Board’s direct control.
They expect to continue that process at next Monday’s regular meeting, when the board also will ask a variety of county officials for more details on their budget needs.
The draft 2019-20 budget projects a 3.24% increase in the general fund, which doesn’t include roads but does include Lincoln County’s court system and the departments led by the county’s eight separately elected “row officials.”
Though commissioners set the final budgets for every county office, they lack legal control over management decisions by the offices whose leaders are elected directly by county voters.
The general-fund budget also includes a full year’s worth of salaries and benefits for appointed Commissioners Walt Johnson and Jerry Woodruff. They were sworn in for two-year terms in December after voters expanded the County Board from three to five members.
Issuance of the road bonds means Lincoln County’s 2019-20 property tax rate is virtually certain to increase, even though the county’s total taxable value likely will barely creep upward.
County Assessor Julie Stenger told commissioners that she expects countywide valuations to total just over $4.98 billion, just 0.4% higher than the 2018 figure. She expects to certify final taxable values before week’s end.
If Stenger’s estimate holds, the draft budget would require a tax rate of 29.68 cents per $100 of taxable value with the road bonds included. The county’s 2018 tax rate was 25.83 cents per $100.
Earlier, the County Board appointed Hewgley to negotiate for permanent and temporary right-of-way easements for rerouting the part of West South River Road washed out in May 2015 flooding.
The long-closed segment between South Buffalo Bill Avenue and Homestead Road would be replaced by a new road about 0.79 miles to its south.
All but 5% of the rerouting’s projected $290,000 cost will be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Bids for the work have yet to be accepted.
Char-Mar-Long Ltd. owns the land including the expected route. In addition to a permanent easement for the new road, Hewgley said, the county will need temporary permission to keep construction equipment nearby.