ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Commission was given a preview of the proposed county budget for next year that includes a significant increase in funding for upcoming tourism-related projects and federal grant money via the American Rescue Plan Act.
However, some funds within the budget are also projected to be lower from last year, which the commissioners attributing this to working with county department heads on determining the best use of taxpayer money.
The commission was given a preview of the preliminary budget during the Nov. 16 meeting, during which time Washington County Clerk/Auditor Susan Lewis pointed out the noticeable increase in county funds related to federal grants and tourism.
The county’s overall 2022 budget, which is made up of various other budgets within it, is estimated to come in at around $165 million, Lewis said.
This is a jump of over $30 million from last year’s budget which included a bump of its own related to money going toward the construction of the county’s new Administration Building and accompanying parking complex
Noted fund increases
The proposed 2022 budget for the county’s convention and tourism funding is a projected $22.5 million, which is $10 million over the 2021 budget. A breakdown of the fund was provided at the meeting, with the largest area of increase being in “tourism related projects.”
“Convention and tourism, this is a big budget in Washington County,” Lewis said. “You can see that this year it looks like we’re having a large jump, but we do have a lot projects we’re working on. Some trail systems and things that are going into the 2022 budget from the tourism tax.”
Lewis declined to go into detail on proposed projects as she spoke to St. George News about the proposed budget in a call Thursday. This was because the parts of the budget were still being fine-tuned and subject to change prior to being rolled out for public review in the near-future.
“When we have everything all finalized, we will put this online for people to see in detail,” she said. “Today we’re just going to show an overview.”
Under the “grant and endowment fund” which was counted under the county’s “Other Funds,” the 2022 budget swelled to $20.2 million from 2021’s $3 million.
“These are our funds, but some of the money is not our money,” Lewis said. “The large grant that you see in the budget for this year is what we’ve received from the American Rescue Plan, so the ARPA money is showed being budgeted for 2022.”
The budget’s proposed general fund is projected to be just over $37.1 million, up around $1.1 million from 2021. For the county, the general fund covers administrative and public safety costs associated with county government.
Revenue for the general fund primarily comes from the taxes and fees the county collects, with the two largest contributors being property and sales tax at a projected $11.5 million and $10.7 million respectively. Both are up over $1 million from last year’s budget.
Increases in the property and sales tax revenue has generally been attributed to county’s continuing growth and rise in properties values.
Public safety, notably the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, takes up 45% of the projected general fund at $15.2 million. The Washington County Attorney’s Office comes in at a distant second $3.7 million, with the county information technology services department coming in third at $1.6 million.
The county’s election services, which will be funded through the general fund, will see an increase to $748,000 for the 2021 midterm election cycle compared to $2021’s $497,500. This will be due to the county’s having to hire additional poll workers to man early voting locations which weren’t required this year, Lewis said.
Other funds of note
Funds for county roads remain largely the same from last year at around $4.7 million, though do sport a $140,000 increase from 2021.
The county’s municipal services fund, which maintains town-style services for the county’s unincorporated communities, is projected to $11.8 million, which is a slight drop from the $12.1 million had in 2021.
The county library system is projected to have a budget of $4.7 million next years. This is a reduction from 2021’s $4.8 million.
Departments counted under municipal services include community development, public works, fire control, activities related to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and street and highway beautification, the latter of which will be a new addition to this part of the budget.
Funds connected to the county’s assessing and collection activities, such as the County Treasurer and Assessor’s Offices, were lumped together for a combined budget of $10 million projected or 2022 versus the $12.8 million had in 2021.
In the cases where certain county departments were projected to have somewhat lower budgets moving into next year, both members of the commission and Lewis said this was due to previous funding obligations and projects being met or completed, as well as the commission’s working with the various departments on budgeting priorities.
“Yes, we did ask, and will continue to work with each office and department in trying to identify any major costs and sources of expense that are there and what we can do to provide a better value” for taxpayers, Commissioner Adam Snow said.
“We ask them (county department and office heads) to continually look at those things,” Snow added, “so even if we are getting the very best value for the citizens that we can – great – then at least we can look the citizens in the eye and tell them, ‘We evaluate this and re-evaluate this continually so you know that we are good stewards of tax dollars.’”
No new taxes are proposed in the county’s 2022 budget.
An online breakdown of the proposed budget will be posted to the Washington County government website at least seven days prior to the date the County Commission selects for a public hearing on the matter. The budget also must be adopted by the commission before the end of the year.
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