Lincoln County plans to operate on a little more money in the new fiscal year than the previous one, under a budget officially adopted Monday. The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners approved a $30.2 million budget, but that amount that is typically overstated in the interests of budgeting for all possibilities.
If grant income doesn’t arrive, it isn’t spent, veteran commissioner Joe Hewgley has said.
Last year, the county spent $22.1 million, the lowest sum in three years.
In the new fiscal year, the county will levy $10.8 million from county property taxpayers, an increase of $249,000 (3.23%.)
The rest of the county’s income comes from grants from the state and federal government, county inheritance taxes, lodging taxes and other fees.
Although the county will call for slightly less from property owners in the coming year compared to last year, property values have increased, so property owners will not notice the difference.
The adoption of the budget marks the end of more than a month of work on the budget, which first appeared to be far beyond the 3.5% annual increase allowed under state law.
The three commissioners cut about $300,000 from the first budgets that were submitted by county departments.
Before the board adopted the budget, three residents spoke.
Ken Main of Sutherland and Mike Groene of North Platte both asked how much the Chamber of Commerce and Development Corporation is getting from Lincoln County.
“The same as last year - $20,000,” board chairman Willis Roethemeyer said.
“It’s a private organization,” Groene said. “It’s not a duty of government to support a private organization. I see you had to cut the Roads Department (from their initial request). That $20,000 would have done a lot of good graveling the roads.”
That sparked some discussion. Roethemeyer said it costs about $1,000 for the gravel to cover a mile of road, plus delivery.
Groene noted that property valuations have increased by slightly more than $1 million, according to the county assessor.
“I think most of that is in agriculture (land),” he said. “Thanks for cutting the levy. We keep getting promised that if we have growth, our taxes will go down. Overall, you’ve done the best job of budgeting (of government entities that call for local property taxes.)”
Eric Seacrest of North Platte agreed that the “taxpayers appreciate your work” and that he is concerned about roads.
“We are not keeping up,” he said. “In no way are we keeping up with inflation, while our roads are getting pounded harder and harder with heavier equipment, creating a perfect storm. Over time it is a threat to the good life of Lincoln County. We do need a solution.”
Seacrest noted that the roads department still uses a 25-year-old road grader, to which Commissioner Joe Hewgley said money has been accumulating to replace that road grader within a year or two.
“It’s taken a long time,” Hewgley said, “but we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hewgley also said the gravel budget was increased five years ago and remains at the higher amount.
Lean times “make us appreciate the tax income we have and our responsibility to spend them wisely,” he said.
Seacrest stuck up for the Chamber and Development Corporation.
“Twenty-thousand is a modest sum to invest in economic development,” he said. “We need more wins like Greenbrier (rail wheel restoration plant near Hershey.)”
Seacrest also asked the board about plans to upgrade the aging courthouse.
“The courthouse needs a lot of work,” Roethemeyer replied. “We are trying to do a little every year. Last year we spent $170,000 on electric upgrades. This year we are going to work on replacing windows. Two years from now, we hope to install new heating and air conditioning; then look at handicapped access. We are looking at spending three-quarters to $1 million over four years.
“I hope it goes well,” Seacrest said.