On Monday the county ended up approving 2010's budget with a mill levy increase of 0.191 mills; and with valuation down, that will generate a hair less in tax revenue. That budget won't impact most county services, but the county will fall behind on asphalt work.
With a mill worth $74,553 in 2009 and $74,147 in 2010, Clay County's 2010 budget will be about $3,600 less than its 2009 budget. Commission Chairman Mike Spicer said for taxpayers that translates into paying "a few pennies less if your valuation stayed the same, a few more pennies if your valuation went up."
A citizen attending Monday's budget hearing said that was about the same amount of dollars the county worked with in 2009. Not counting the rural highway mill levy, which also stayed the same, the county is operating on a $9.9 million budget.
"We've tried very hard to do that (keep the dollars the same)," Spicer said.
Spicer pointed out that the county has cut economic development and courthouse maintenance down to one mill each. Economic Development has a "fairly good reserve," so the commission was "comfortable" is cutting it down this year, he said.
County department heads and county employees were among those attending Monday's budget hearing.
In answer to questions from County Appraiser Steve "Mack" MacAnally, commissioners said county employee wages will rise one percent and the hiring freeze will remain indefinitely.
Although commissioners cut requests of department heads, most of them will operate on the same amount of funds they did in 2009, or close to it.
"We're trying to maintain services as best we can," Commissioner David Thurlow said.
The Highway Department is the exception and will fall behind on road work.
The Highway Department's 2009 and 2010 budget isn't enough to catch up on roadwork next year or this year because the department skipped road work last year because of the high fuel and oil costs.
Highway administrator Steve Liby presented a budget with estimates of expenses until the end of the year. After payroll, fuel and utilities, the department has about $243,000 left it could spend on sealing, center lines and redoing asphalt.
Liby recommended not spending all of that because unexpected expenses come up all the time, including equipment repairs, overtime for snow and ice removal and extra sand and salt that maybe needed if the fall and early winter are wetter than usual. Just recently Liby said he spent $10,000 to replace tires that weren't under warranty, because they were starting to unravel.
The rest of the year's expense estimates are based on current prices and current fuel consumption, which is at its peak because everything is running on asphalt work being done now.
"Fuel can go down," Liby said. "But as we well know, everything else has gone up and continues to go up."
Liby said he is spending 30 to 40 percent more on asphalt than five years ago, getting sand from 60 miles away that used to come from in-county, and paying 35 percent more on the chips for sealing, from $8 a ton to $13.95 a ton.
The county has already done quite a bit of road work this year. The county sealed 13 miles around Morganville, produced 60,000 tons of asphalt and completed 19 miles of asphalt work with about 16 miles left to go. The asphalt and salaries are paid for. All the department will need is to purchase tack oil, Liby said.
The asphalt work must be done to prepare the pavement for sealing before the county can seal the cracks. The county goes over and lays asphalt on the worst spots, then comes back and seals cracks in spots that are in better condition.
The county can either choose not to seal 30 miles in the Green area, which would cost an estimated $323,640 without center line paint, or to not seal 15 miles of Broughton Road, which would cost and estimated $161,820 without center line paint.
Commissioners said there wasn't much of a choice because the county doesn't have enough to seal all of the Green area. They directed Liby to seal the Broughton Road, the most traveled road in the county, and four miles of Utah Road leading into Green.
That would leave less than $80,000 in reserve that could used for unexpected expenses or as a carryover for next year's budget.
Because Broughton Road is the most traveled road in the county, Liby recommended the county spend the extra money to put center lines on it, about $4,000.
That leave a fairly "slim" buffer for unexpected expenses, Liby said.
For 2010, the county's asphalt schedule is to seal 36 miles in the southeast part of the county around Wakefield. Thurlow said it looked like some of that would have to wait, because the county would have to seal the Green area first, which could "easily" eat up what the county has budgeted for the department in 2010, Liby said.
Thurlow suggested splitting it up so that some is done around Green and some around Wakefield next year.
Spicer said Liby's report wasn't a shock; commissioners knew when setting the budget it would have an impact on roadwork.
"We won't be worse off any more than what we were this year," Commissioner Jerry Mayo said. "We may not be able to catch up for the next couple of years, but we can do it."
Falling behind is preferable to raising taxes, commissioners said.