Warren County commissioners recently approved a $326.8 million 2023 budget, keeping the county debt-free and in strong financial shape by taking in more money than it’s spending even after a yearlong, $47 million property tax holiday and with a quarter percent sales tax decrease in 2023.
The 2023 general fund budget totals more than $86 million, which is an increase of 4.34% over the $82.4 million appropriated for 2022, according to Martin Russell, deputy county administrator. The 2023 general fund budget is broken down with 58.4% going to the county’s criminal justice system; 40.2% for general operations, 0.4% going to social services, and 0.85% for debt service and miscellaneous items.
Russell said the county had targeted a budget increase of 4% but factors bumped that target up including wage pressures, cybersecurity upgrades, purchasing of mobile radios, and other increased costs.
The overall total for all county funds, including the general, rotary, capital, enterprise, and special debt funds for 2023 is more than $326.8 million.
Russell said the county is anticipating more than $90.4 million in general fund revenues for 2023. The 2022 end-of-year revenue is lower than 2021 numbers due to the tax holiday implemented in 2022. The tax holiday expires on Dec. 31, 2022.
Last year, the commissioners approved a $47 million property tax holiday for 2022 that they said would lessen the impact of an average 17% property value hike from a mandated reassessment done in 2021. It was one of the largest tax holidays in state history, according to Commissioner Tom Grossmann.
Warren County commissioners approved reinstating the collection of 1.21 mills for the Senior Citizen Services Levy for tax year 2022 that is payable in 2023. Commissioners previously reinstated the county portion of property taxes that were not collected in 2022 to resume collection in 2023 when the 2023 tax budget was prepared in July.
The commissioners continue to receive more than anticipated and spend less than budgeted. Revenue for 2022 comes in at $74.5 million to date. This is 124% of the anticipated $63.1 million, with expenses currently at 73% of the budgeted amount through November, Russell said.
He said the commissioners expect to maintain a $48.1 million unencumbered carryover and finish out the year with sales tax revenue up 7.02% from 2021.
In other areas, Russell noted the county’s building department/permits remain strong as it collected $300,000 over its projection for 2022. In addition, county officials saw an increase in investment income after adjusting the county portfolio to capitalize on increasing rates.
In 2023, Russell said the county will be setting aside $10 million for future infrastructure projects and another $12 million in the rainy day fund that was established in 2020.
The county will decrease its sales tax by 0.25% to 6.75% at the end of the year when the five-year piggyback sales tax expires. Those revenues were used to construct the new $56.5 million jail and sheriff’s office headquarters that was completed on time in October 2021 and $1.5 million under budget. This resulting in savings of about $30 million in interest costs for the jail project.
Commissioner David Young said he’s “pleased that in 2023, this county will not be making any general fund debt payments and so we can legitimately say, once again, after building a new jail, and after doing our Telecom project and upgrading public safety assets, that we are debt free.
“We are fiscally conservative in good times and bad times . . . if you anticipate less money coming in than really is going to come in, and spend less than that number, that’s . . . how you generate these budget surpluses,” Young said.