Madison County Board considers $28 million budget increase without property tax hike
Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
The $171,178,947 budget will be voted on by the Madison County Board on Wednesday, Nov. 17, along with a $30.8 million property tax levy that is unchanged from last year. The county’s Government Finance and Government Operations Committee approved the budget Monday.
County Compliance Manager John Thompson said the $28 million increase in the budget is necessary to cover several “one-time costs” the county will incur this year, plus wage increases and county projects that were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are things we put off the last few years when we tightened our belts and when COVID hit and we anticipated revenues going down — we had a lot of postponed wage increases and capital projects,” Thompson said. “Those items are a big chunk, plus those one-time monies that are making a big swing from year-to-year.”
To fund the higher expenses, the county estimates it will collect roughly $6.6 million additional tax dollars in 2022, $4 million in additional intergovernmental grants, an additional $2.6 million in fees, and $9.1 million in other grants.
Roughly $54.4 million of the budget is dedicated to the general fund, which includes funding for the county board, the county’s many departments, the jail and the sheriff’s department. The general budget is roughly $14 million higher than last year.
Departments that saw noticeable changes in the 2021 budget included a more than $1 million increase in the county clerk’s office’s budget, a roughly $2 million raise in administrative costs at the Sheriff’s Department and a $1 million increase in administrative costs at the county jail and both the state’s attorney’s and circuit clerk’s offices.
That general budget is funded by the property tax levy and uses approximately one-third of the total revenue that comes from it.
The budget also allocates $91.4 million to special revenue, $15.6 million to the internal service fund, $5.3 million to capital projects and $4.3 million to the enterprise funds.
Special revenue funds are allocated to specific projects like motor fuel tax funds, highway funds and many others that must be kept separate from the general fund.
Board member unhappy with county clerk budget
At the recent committee meeting, county board member Mike Babcock took issue with the increase in the county clerk’s budget, asking County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza why her budget had grown at a rate higher than others.
Ming-Mendoza said since there are two elections in 2022 — a primary in the spring and a general election in the fall — more money is needed for her office’s budget.
COVID-19 precautions and the need to replace several voting machines she said were more than 20 years old account for other higher costs, she said.
Babcock also was troubled by the $28 million swing in the budget.
Prenzler happy with unmoved tax levy
In a statement about the budget, County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler lauded the tax levy remaining the same for four years in a row.
During the committee meeting, committee chairman Chris Guy said the budget originally called for an increased property tax levy, which was successfully avoided.
“It has been my priority, along with County Board members, to reduce the county’s reliance on property taxes,” Prenzler said. “In 2017, the tax levy was lowered $1.8 million to $30.8 million and for the past four years we’ve kept it the same.”
County governments set property tax levies based on the maximum amount of revenue they need to cover their budgets for the coming year. But because the actual value of the property being taxed won’t be known until the spring when assessments are completed, they have to estimate the tax rate to complete their budgets.
The property tax cycle is a two-year cycle. Over the first year, the property is assigned a value reflecting its value as of Jan. 1. The tax bills are then calculated, mailed and payments are distributed in the following year.
Evaluation and collecting property taxes is a six-step process, starting with assessment and ending with collection.