The Polk County Commissioners spent the past two days in budget meetings with the various Polk County Department heads.  The total budget for the levy presented by the staff was for $29,368,223.

That number would represent a levy increase of about 21 percent. However, Chairman Gary Willhite (Third District) said the plan next week to set a reasonable levy below that amount. “It’s a long and somewhat overwhelming review for the last two days,” said Willhite. “Probably eight hours each day listening to 15 different departments submit their budgets.  We’re trying to take a look at where we want to put our finances for next year. We’ve got some work to do in the next two months. We want to set a reasonable preliminary levy next not to exceed and work for a lower percentage after that.”

The commissioners on Wednesday discussed a desire to set a preliminary levy at 5 percent or below. At the same time, Commissioner Warren Strandell said they also have to be mindful not to push too much down the road. The commissioners will be asked to consider three facility projects, including a new roof at the Government Center, which has outlived its life expectancy by at least five years and is starting to leak. Those projects make up about $1.1 million in the requested budgets.

The state funding for roads and updated financial software are also big things on the list said, Willhite. “Those are probably the biggest ones,” said Willhite. “We’re aware the state is probably not going to come up with as strong a budget for roads as they have in the past. The question is, are we going to have to delay some of those projects for a year? And I think the answer is probably yes. We are working on some new accounting software which would be advantageous to the county we believe. It’s a matter of trying to make that into the budget and still keep the levy as low as possible.”

Polk County Administrator Chuck Whiting will make a recommended preliminary levy presentation to the commissioner next week and then work with the departments to meet or exceed that by December. “As much as it’s overwhelming for us to digest this, he goes back, and I think has a pretty good idea on the priority of the commissioners, he’ll meet with the department heads to make the budget work,” said Willhite. “We’re not going to be able to approve a 19-20 percent levy, which is probably what would be needed to do everything we want to do. We do have some reserves, and I think we’ll have to look toward spending some of those with the COVID.”

The requested total budget from the departments will need to have a reduction of approximately $3.4 million to reach a 5.5 percent levy.  The goal for several years has been not to increase the annual levy by more than 3 percent a year, and to achieve that goal, the County will have to make about $3.9 million in reductions from the requested budget from the levy.  Those reductions can be made through cuts or other revenue sources such as reserves or new state and federal funding.

Polk County residents will be mailed levy information before the county’s public levy meeting on December 15, said Willhite. “More information will be coming out,” said Willhite. “I think we’ve set a date of December 15 to review and answer specific questions. They’ll be more information provided prior to that in November. And the information is sent out as to if the preliminary levy is a certain a dollar amount on the effect it would be on your property. People will probably get that the end of November, the first part of December, to take a look at that.”

That meeting will be held at 6 p.m. The County Commissioners will then set the final levy on December 22.