Fayette decides to live without tax hike, will use cuts, reserves

As Fayette County government prepares to absorb a $2.2 million blow to property tax revenues, there is no projected tax increase to soften the impact on county services.

Instead, Fayette County officials have proposed specific budget cuts or the use of $2.85 million of the county’s unrestricted cash reserves to balance the $45.2 general fund portion of the county’s upcoming 2012-2013 budget.

Budget cuts that could reduce the use of cash reserves, including a $1.6 million reduction in the county’s capital improvement plan, the elimination of positions at $165,000 and possible savings of $665,000 from the county’s early retirement plan.

Even if the full the $2.85 million comes from the county’s cash reserves, the county would be left with an additional $9.4 million in its “rainy day fund” in addition to the county’s restricted cash reserves, which equal several months of working capital. The unrestricted cash reserves also serve as the county’s contingency fund since the county has eliminated a contingency fund line item from the budget again this year.

The county expects to take a $2.2 million hit alone in property tax revenue thanks to a third consecutive year of declining property values, according to county staff.

In the meantime, the county is hoping to significantly reduce its workforce by offering an early retirement plan to 44 eligible employees. Assuming most of those positions are left vacant, the county will achieve a significant annual savings in future years’ budgets, officials have said.

County staff proposed a total budget of $80.5 million, although that includes all expenditures including the water system, which funds itself through rate revenues, and also the separate accounts for fire, EMS and 911 services.

The proposed budget from County Administrator Jack Krakeel, unveiled to the commission last week, includes the purchase of 20 vehicles, more than half of which are Charger patrol vehicles for the sheriff’s department.

The general fund budget is up $32,000 from last year, but that is due to the expected cost of administering countywide elections, rising fuel costs, rising utility costs and increased software maintenance costs, officials said.