Budget outlook grows gloomier for Summit County, schools | SummitDaily.com

Budget outlook grows gloomier for Summit County, schools

summit daily news

FRISCO – The county’s budget will take an up-to $5.5 million wallop in 2012 with the decline of local property values in the wake of the national recession.

“There’s no way to hide this from the public,” Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said. “You’re going to feel this.”

Property tax revenue is projected to fall between 20 and 25 percent, exacting a $4.5 to $5.5 million impact. Many county departments – such as road and bridge, the libraries and the Sheriff’s Office – stand to face significant cuts.

Davidson, Summit County Treasurer Bill Wallace and Summit School Board Treasurer Brad Piehl answered questions from residents at an Our Future Summit discussion Thursday at the Summit County Community and Senior Center (a facility likely to be affected by the revenue decrease) in Frisco.

Davidson said that despite an overall decline in property values, not everyone can expect to pay 25 percent less in taxes in 2012.

“We have wide variations with what’s going on with sales of properties. We do have certain pockets in this county where values on property are continuing to increase,” he said.

He also said that if the values that fell return quickly to previous levels during any of the upcoming biennial valuations, the county “can’t realize more than 5.5 percent increase in property tax revenues per year.”

“We can’t recognize that bounce-back,” he said, adding that it’s estimated it will take roughly a decade to get property-tax revenues back to the proximity of existing levels.

And the county has been running a pretty tight ship economically. Davidson said the number of people in essential government departments has increased by less than 2 percent in eight years.

“There have been very strict controls on the growth of basic county services,” he said.

Wages have been frozen for about three years, and a hiring freeze has required approval for replacement of any staff who leave.

Property taxes comprise about 35 percent of the county’s revenue – along iwth about 20 percent in fees and permits, 15 percent from sales tax and 15 percent in grants, among others.

However, local schools don’t have as much diversity in revenue streams.

School financing is in a particularly precarious situation due to hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts being enacted at the state level.

The state decides how much money school districts receive, and a dismal state budget situation recently has made it tougher for local districts.

And it only appears to be getting worse.

“(Entering next year)They have basically a bigger stick to make us cut than they had this year” Piehl said.

But the state government is allowing districts to ask voters for mill levy overrides to help restore some financing. With a previous mill levy in Summit County – for facilities, maintenance and technology needs – ending this year, the proposed override to support general school operations would still have property owners paying less in taxes.

The override’s impact would be about one third of what people have already been paying for the mill levy that is expiring.

“As scary as the economic times are, I’m urging school board members to ask for that money,” Davidson said.

Piehl said the district has already frozen teachers’ salaries for next year despite a commitment the board had made for an increase.

In addition to the falling property values, local government leaders fear statewide Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 on the ballot this November could have shocking consequences.

For example, Piehl said a potential scenario could cause schools not to convene until January.

“For us, it just keeps getting more complex,” he said. “We would run out of money in a couple of months.”

SDN reporter Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.

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