A tentative budget for 1990 that includes a small tax increase to pay for staffing and operating the county's new jail was approved Monday by the Davis County commissioners.
The approval process was not smooth, with Commissioner William Lawrence saying he opposes the increase and campaigned for his office last year promising not to raise taxes.Commissioners Gayle Stevenson and William Peters said Lawrence is turning the issue into a re-election ploy, with Stevenson calling Lawrence's comments "indefensible" and "absolutely irresponsibility."
The county's tentative 1990 budget is about $2 million more than the current year's spending level. Of that, about $1.5 million will be funded by a property tax increase.
The increase - which comes to about $15 a year for the owner of a $70,000 house - was approved by voters two years ago when they passed the $18.5 million bond issue to build the jail, according to Peters and Stevenson.
Voters were told prior to the election that a tax increase of that size would be necessary to staff and operate the jail when it is completed, some time in the fall of 1990.
Stevenson and Peters said Lawrence's statement opposing the tentative budget conflicts with his statements and actions during the past three months of budget preparation.
That an increase was coming was clear during the numerous review sessions with department heads, Stevenson said, but the commissioners resisted any inclination to hike the increase above the promised limit.
And, he said, the budget as proposed was done by consensus among the three commissioners, a consensus he charged Lawrence is now breaking as a political ploy.
Depleting the surplus funds that prior county commissions accumulated over the years as a financial buffer would be irresponsible, Stevenson charged.
"We all agreed that a tax increase is an absolute necessity if this county is to survive. No one likes to raise taxes, but we agreed it's necessary. And we resisted any pressure to impose a larger increase than the one we promised," said Stevenson.
"If we adopted your idea and used every fund balance, every bit of money we have, where would we be next year?" Stevenson asked. "It's absolute irresponsibility."
Lawrence said the county can fund the tentative budget by dipping into reserve and surplus funds, which he estimates total more than $4 million, and holding the line on spending.
He said the county has done a good job this year in cutting spending and by continuing that hard line, plus using some of the county's accumulated fund balances, a tax increase for 1990 can be avoided.
Peters and Stevenson also dispute Lawrence's $4 million surplus figure, saying the county doesn't have nearly that much money put aside.
Lawrence agreed, under some intense questioning by Stevenson and Peters, that a tax increase may be necessary in 1991 to pay for the jail's operation.
Lawrence said when he campaigned for his office in 1988 he promised hundreds of persons that he would oppose any tax increase and he is honor-bound to act on that promise now.
A public hearing on the budget is set for 2 p.m. Dec. 13 in the commission chambers of the county courthouse.