Commissioner Runnels addresses millage rollbacks
To the editor,
I am writing in response to recent comments made regarding the decision by the Lake County Board of Commissioners to not levy the full millage amounts for the winter of 2017 with four special millages: the seniors, ambulance, 911 and road patrol.
The Board of Commissioners didn’t cut these taxes at the expense of cutting services, but rather provided some relief to tax payers rather than continue to build up unneeded surpluses. When a millage is approved by voters, it is up to the respective board that requested the vote and millage to determine if the full levy is needed and, if not, the amount adequate to meet the operational needs of the department.
These millages have been levied to their fullest for some time and three of the four have had consistent excess operating revenues for several years — to the degree they have built up enormous fund balances. The road patrol millage has built up a fund balance in excess of $2.1 million, the 911 (when coupled with wireless monies received from the state) in excess of $1.7 million, the ambulance $1.25 million and the seniors over $320,000.
Nearly all of these fund balances are in excess of 100 percent of their yearly operating needs and well beyond governmental standards and best practices. The ambulance fund balance is 370 percent of yearly expenses!
In discussions with the leadership of the Council on Aging, they stated they loved the idea and couldn’t think of anything the county could do that would help the seniors, poor and vulnerable within our communities better than cutting the taxes.
The new sheriff Rich Martin has talked about enhancing services and if he makes a compelling case, and the board agrees, there are more than adequate funds available to do this. The reduction to the road patrol millage amounts to $250,000 and last year it finished with a surplus of over $265,000. It’s likely this roll back just kept the fund balance from growing bigger.
In terms of the ambulance, I agree we need to do more to decrease the response times and we have been exploring how to do just that. Although response times haven’t changed dramatically in the 17 years the county has been with Life EMS, I believe we can do better, and response times of 19 minutes are unacceptable.
We have asked for the number of times our ambulances aid another county and vice versa, and we are exploring what an acceptable response time is for a rural area. Our approach needs to be all inclusive as we don’t want reductions in response times in one area to come at the expense of another. With that said, I think continually taking money from the tax payers and stockpiling it without a plan for how to provide a better service is ludicrous. Every year the board votes on the amount of the levy and given the fund balance, once a logical plan is proposed there are more than sufficient funds available to implement them.
I do think it’s ironic that my predecessor voted in September of 2015, to reduce the ambulance millage from 1 mill down to .2500 for the 2016 budget, but I haven’t heard any criticisms of him. He was also one of three prior board members that were on an ambulance committee for nearly two years, established with a goal of reducing response times. This committee met several times, and its members got several per diem and mileage checks, but ultimately they made no recommendations or drew any conclusions. In the end — nothing got done. I say this not to point out the faults of my predecessor, but to ask we be judged equally.
Most of my colleagues and I have been in office for less than 10 months, and coming up with good solutions to the response times will take time. But needlessly throwing money at this issue is reckless and will not solve it.
Lake County Commissioner, Joan Runnels