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Ottawa County: 3 percent tax revenue increase expected in 2017 budget

By Caleb Whitmer/The Holland Sentinel • Sep 15, 2016 at 4:00 PM

WEST OLIVE — Ottawa County tax revenue is expected to increase by 3 percent next year.

County Fiscal Services Director Karen Karasinski presented the proposed 2017 budget to the county board Tuesday. In total, the budget appropriates almost $180 million.

Growing tax revenue corresponds with growing property value — a sign of economic health for Ottawa County that wasn’t a given in the years following the 2008 financial crisis. Each county budget between 2010 and 2013 saw tax revenue fall or stagnate. The 2010 budget, for instance, expected a drop in tax revenue by more than 5 percent between 2009 and 2010.

Ottawa County’s total proposed allocations for 2017 are $179.3 million, reflecting a $30 million increase from 2016. Karasinski explained the bump as the result of a number of factors, including accounting changes, more funding from the state government for specific projects and an increase in the county’s retirement funding obligation for its employees.

The majority of the county’s funding comes from three areas: the state and federal government (43 percent), local taxes (34 percent) and charges for services (11 percent).

The majority of the county’s spending breaks down into two categories: Salaries, wages and benefits for county employees (46 percent) and “other services and charges” (42.5 percent).

Most of the changes between this budget and last happen in that second category, Karasinski said, “other services and charges.” For instance, the 2015 budget didn’t include either the millage for the road commission or for central dispatch. Both those taxes and expenditures were pulled back into the budget this year, upping the bottom line by almost $10 million.

Other increases come from grant money related to projects such as the parks department's Spoonville Trail.

Karasinski also said the Michigan Employees Retirement System, which handles Ottawa County’s retirement funds, readjusted some of its expectations, factoring in the general increase in life expectancy, among other things. Ottawa County’s employer contribution for 2017 increased by 40 percent.

The board of commissioners, Karasinski said, will study the retirement issue in more depth in the near future. It will look into the long-term implication for MERS’s adjustments.

The county will levy five distinct taxes in 2017, the first year in which the Community Mental Health millage will actually fund Ottawa County’s mental health services after voters passed the tax in March.

The Ottawa County millage rates for 2017 are as follows: 0.4974 for county roads, 0.4377 for dispatch, 3.6 mills for the county’s general operations, 0.3148 for the parks system and 0.2984 for Community Mental Health.

In total, Ottawa County plans to collect about $55 million in local taxes — $7 million less than it could.

Karasinski pointed out in her presentation that the county board of commissioners is authorized to levy just more than 4.2 mils to fund its general operations. The board, however, votes each year to keep the millage rate at 3.6, saving taxpayers that $7 million.

The county board will vote on adopting the budget at its next meeting in two weeks.

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