Commissioners have largely agreed on a fiscal 2023 budget—including fully funding the library’s request to lift low-paid employees up to a minimum of $15 an hour—but still haven’t decided how to pay for some programs.
The ACC government received almost $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds that can be used to backfill budget holes created by the pandemic. In this case, commissioners are debating whether to use ARPA to free up money for a larger property tax cut.
A proposal by Commissioner Ovita Thornton would cut the property tax rate by 0.67 mills, rather than the 0.5 proposed by Mayor Kelly Girtz. A competing proposal from Commissioner Tim Denson would cut the millage rate by six-tenths. The difference to taxpayers would be small—Mayor Pro Tem Carol Myers calculated it at $13 on her home, valued at $220,000.
Thornton described it as a symbolic gesture to homeowners who’ve been complaining about higher property values, with assessments rising an average of 16% last year. “I do feel like folks think they’re paying and not getting anything for their tax dollars,” she said.
However, other commissioners said they’re not comfortable using ARPA for ongoing expenses, since once those funds are gone, local taxpayers will be on the hook. “I don’t want to rely on ARPA funding, especially for things that aren’t one-time costs,” Denson said. “I don’t think that’s sustainable.”
The commission has already allocated $22 million of $57 million in ARPA funding, spending it on pandemic hazard pay for county employees, a homeless camp, eviction prevention and COVID-19 vaccine incentives. In March, they placed $30 million in “pots” for affordable housing, youth development, homelessness and business assistance, with another $5 million in contingency. Since then, they have agreed to spend $3.5 million to partially cover rising construction costs for the Bethel redevelopment.
“We keep talking about ARPA as if it’s this bottomless well, and it’s not,” Commissioner Jesse Houle said.
Commissioner Mariah Parker said the commission shouldn’t decide on specifics for ARPA funds without going through a transparent public process, and warned against frittering them away. “We could do really transformative things with ARPA that we couldn’t do with general fund dollars,” like providing reparations in the form of down payments on homes, Parker said.
Among the expenditures that could be funded by ARPA or local dollars (or, in some cases, cut entirely): $200,000 for a Leisure Services master plan, $450,000 for park improvements, $750,000 for the Neighborhood Leaders program, $165,000 for a Youth Cadet Corps to train local high-school students to be police officers and $250,000 to build capacity for small local nonprofits.
Commissioners also want to add $160,000 for neighborhood traffic calming, which would pay for 10 speed humps or six new radar signs that have proven effective in slowing down drivers, according to Commissioner Mike Hamby.
“I see countywide, sociopathic drivers who threaten the lives of children, the elderly and others who walk our neighborhoods,” Commissioner Russell Edwards said.
The commission is scheduled to vote on a final budget June 7. It takes effect July 1.
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