PREBLE COUNTY — The Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities announced on Thursday, Oct. 3, the agency will be rolling back continuing levy collections for the 2019 tax year.
A Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities press release making the announcement reads, “The Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities is pleased to be able to voluntarily request that the Preble County Budget Commission rollback (AKA Freeze) our continuing levy collections for the 2019 tax year. In preparing our upcoming budget, we found that additional support from the state has allowed us to give back to our taxpayers $1.9 million dollars which were scheduled to be collected for tax year 2019.
“We appreciate your continuing support and are striving to be good stewards of your monies as we serve the 424 individuals who qualify for our services. PCDD provides a lifetime of services, currently infant to age 94.
“‘I value and appreciate the spirit of community in our county. Preble County always rallies together to help others. The Board of Developmental Disabilities supports positive culture and values the community involvement,’ Bethany Schultz, Superintendent/SSA Director of the Board of DD, said.
“Board President Eva Howard added, ‘We would like to commend PCDD Superintendent Bethany Schultz for her leadership in making the decisions that lead to the board’s ability to request a freeze on the tax collection.’
“Stephanie Garrett, vice president of the board stated, ‘It is a blessing to work alongside other Preble County citizens who serve on the Preble County Board of DD. We all have a heart for the people we serve and are very mindful of taxpayer money. I am thrilled we are in the position to be able to forgo collections for the 2019 tax year. It is very rare that a board works so diligently to save money that results in the opportunity to save the taxpayers money.’”
At a Preble County Commission meeting on Monday, Oct. 7, Preble County Auditor Lavon Wright reported the Preble County Budget Commission requested a meeting with Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities after seeing the agency’s cash balance of almost seven million dollars.
During the meeting, Wright read the following statement: “During the process of compiling budget sheets for all county departments, the County Auditor took note that the Preble County Developmental Disabilities (DD) Fund was carrying a cash balance of almost seven million dollars.
“The Auditor, being on the Budget Commission, brought the Budget Commission up to speed regarding the substantial surplus of revenue in DD’s cash balance. Their revenue far exceeded their expenditures.
“On Sept. 12, the Budget Commission invited DD to a formal budget meeting to be held on Sept. 19 to discuss their tax levies. The invitation to attend a meeting with the Budget Commission is commonly seen, or known, as an advance warning that budgets are being scrutinized.
“The Budget Commission met with DD board members on Sept. 19. During that meeting DD stated that after receiving an invitation by email on Sept. 12 to attend a Budget Commission meeting, they had met with their board on Sept. 17 and voted to present their idea of reducing the two continuous levies to the Budget Commission. After discussion, the Budget Commission tabled the vote to roll back any levy dollars until their next, Oct. 3, meeting. This was to give the Budget Commission ample time to investigate further how much each levy brought in revenue. It also was to make sure the correct one(s) were being taken to a zero collection, so that DD was not overtaxing our constituents.
“After looking further, the Budget Commission agreed that the two continuous levies (1.0 mill and 1.73 mills) would be the ones that they decreased to zero rate of collection for the 2019 tax year, 2020 calendar year. DD will continue to collect on the 1.9 mill levy that was passed in 2017. Both parties will meet annually to consider revenues and expenditures before increasing the levies to the original voted rates, to ensure that cash surplus is not an issue in the future.
“Note that the Budget Commission members are as follows: Prosecuting Attorney Martin P. Votel, Auditor Lavon Wright, and Treasurer Brenda White.”
Wright added, she created a timetable from 2013-2019 which shows Preble County Board Developmental Disabilities’ cash balance “continues to grow” throughout the years. She said, at the time of the meeting with Preble County Board of DD, representatives claimed they thought they were going to have more expenditures than what they had.
Commissioner Rodney Creech noted, “Looking at this sheet, the DD cash balance is almost as high or higher than [Preble County’s] General Fund balance.”
He asked if the remaining levy — the 1.9 mill levy that was passed in 2017 — could be reduced or rolled back as well.
Wright responded, there is a new law passed which would require the Budget Commission to hold a public hearing and provide a five year forecast. That law does not go into affect until Oct. 17, but the Budget Commission did not want to vote without being familiar with the legislature.
“I think their whole reasoning was, they didn’t want to look to the taxpayers that they didn’t need that money [from the 2017 tax levy],” Wright said. “We could have voted that day, but I’m glad we didn’t, because it did give us time to further investigate. Long story short, we went ahead and voted on Oct. 3 to roll those two back. Yes, we could take off that third one and they would still have plenty of money, but at this point, we would have to jump through those hoops.”
She added, next year the Budget Commission will reevaluate.
“That is why the Budget Commission exists — to make sure things are evaluated on a regular basis,” Commissioner Denise Robertson said.
Creech added, the commissioners met with representatives from the Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities before the tax levy was put on the ballot, when DD claimed the levy was needed. Now, Creech explained, he does not believe the 2017 1.9-mill tax levy was ever needed.
“As a commissioner, I listen to people. We let people bring us their opinions — they are the professionals and we listen to them. If they make a bad recommendation, they need to be held accountable. This was a poor recommendation and the levy was not needed,” he said. “Personally, I feel like they took advantage of the commissioners, because I don’t work in their world every day, but most of all, they took advantage of the tax payers.
“I think, next year, we need to reevaluate. If we need to adjust that 1.9-mill levy, it needs to be done.”
Creech also asked if the board needed an outside source to look into Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ budget and finances, noting his “trust right now is very low.”
Wright responded, “Fraudulent is not happening, but improper public purpose is happening. They buy flowers for employees’ families, etc., just because their board can approve that.”
She suggested, in the future, the Preble County Board of Commissioners have the Preble County Budget Commission research any proposed levy before approving it to be listed on the ballot.
Wright also mentioned a Facebook post Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities had posted which reported the board had “voluntarily” requested from the Preble County Budget Commission the two continuing levies be rolled back for the 2019 year.
In Wright’s opinion, Preble County Board of DD would not have suggested the levies be rolled back if Preble County Budget Commission had not requested a meeting. “The budget commission would not have met with them if we had not sent them a letter. It would have continued on up,” she said.
Creech added, “They made a bad mistake and now they’re covering their tracks — that is very upsetting.”
Commissioners approved a resolution noting receipt of the amended tax levy rates and certifying them to the auditor.
“It’s too bad. We have to learn from situations that occur and I’m glad our Budget Commission is doing their job. I appreciate them for bringing this to DD’s attention and ours,” Creech concluded.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH