Box Elder County has formally approved a budget of $40.8 million for next year, an increase of nearly $4 million over 2019 due largely to recently approved pay raises for law enforcement positions.
The bigger budget for 2020 was adopted last week at a meeting of the Box Elder County Commission, which also revised this year’s budget to include an increase in the cost of the new bleachers at the county fairgrounds and a few smaller expenditures.
The biggest increases come in the public safety budget. The corrections budget for the county jail is increasing from $3.4 in 2019 to $4.6 million in 2020, as officials determined that a substantial pay raise was needed for the county to stay competitive with others in recruiting and retaining employees. The budget for the sheriff’s department is going up by about $300,000.
“Some of the big increases we’re going to see this year are due to personnel,” County Auditor Tom Kotter said.
In September, the county commission voted unanimously to raise the compensation of county law enforcement personnel, including both patrol deputies and those who work at the county jail.
The goal of the increase is not just to make the job more attractive to potential new recruits, but also to alleviate an ongoing problem with turnover inside the sheriff’s department.
“We are facing a critical staffing shortage,” Commissioner Jeff Scott said. “Folks may be leaving the profession to go work in other professions because of higher money. They may be leaving here to go to other entities to get paid more. We’ve literally had some of our deputies leaving after just a few months because they get offered something someplace else, so we need to get our wages up higher.”
In addition to the pay raise, the public safety budget is also going up to account for an increase in benefits and equipment, including some new patrol vehicles.
An increase in government operating costs includes a 2 percent cost of living raise for county employees, as well as a 7.5 percent hike in the cost of providing health insurance to those employees.
As in past years, the biggest chunk of the budget is slated for public safety. At $16.1 million, public safety will account for 40 percent of the total budget. General government operations are budgeted at $9.4 million, or 23 percent of the total. The roads and weed departments are slated to receive more than $7.1 million, accounting for 17 percent of the budget.
Other areas accounting for the remainder of the budget include community and economic development at $2.74 million, or 7 percent; tourism/fairgrounds at $2.15 million, or 5 percent; the Bookmobile program at $1.98 million, or 5 percent, and the county landfill at $1.3 million, accounting for 3 percent of the overall budget.
A jump in the library budget, from $468,000 to nearly $2 million, is due to a new building planned for the Bookmobile program. Kotter said the Bookmobile program has been saving money for the last decade to pay for a new building and is planning to bring $1 million to the table. Another $620,000 to pay for the building, will come from the county capital improvement fund. Officials are recommending the facility be built at the county fairgrounds in Tremonton.
The justice court and county landfill anticipate bringing in more than they spend, as they have in past years, so those departments are expected to provide a net gain.
The budget for the tourism fund is slated to drop from $3.3 million this year to $2.15 million next year. The tourism budget was higher last year due mainly to the bleacher expansion project at the fairgrounds rodeo arena.
The county’s redevelopment agency budget is increasing from $3.9 million to $4.1 million due to higher administrative costs.
Kotter said the county anticipates receiving close to $12 million in property taxes next year. That includes $9 million in general county property taxes, $1.7 in assessing and collecting for the county, $815,000 in municipal services taxes (collected from residents in unincorporated areas), $400,000 in library taxes (paid by residents who don’t have a municipal library), and $50,000 in assessing and collecting for the state.
The Box Elder School District receives nearly two-thirds of property tax revenue in the county, while the county itself receives just shy of 21 percent. Municipalities get 8.5 percent, water districts receive 2.3 percent, mosquito abatement 1.9 percent at special service districts at 0.4 percent.
Kotter said the budget will probably look different at the end of the year, as expenses often come in under budget and revenues higher than projected.
“The county budget is very worst-case scenario,” he said. “We budget revenues low and expenses high.”
He said the county has no outstanding debt heading into 2020, and there are no plans for a tax increase at the county level next year.
“Nothing is ever government funded — it’s taxpayer funded, so I hope we’re prudent with the money that we’re trusted with,” Kotter said.
High school graduation rates were down slightly in Box Elder County overall last year, but stayed in line with historical and state averages.
The state Board of Education released data last week stating that 43,500 students graduated from district and charter high schools in Utah in 2019, representing 87.4% who entered as freshmen four years earlier.
The overall graduation rate increased by 0.4% since last year and is up by more than 3% in the past five years, board officials said. It was the seventh straight year that the rate went up.
The Box Elder School District reported graduating 859 students in 2019 for an overall graduation rate of 83.6%. That was down from 84.3% in 2018 and 83.9% in 2017, but remained consistent with long-term trends.
Bear River High School was well above the statewide average, graduating 303 students this year for a rate of 92.7%. That was down from 95 percent in 2018, but up compared with a 91.5% rate in 2017.
Box Elder High School graduated 452 students at a rate of 86.5%, down from 87.4% in 2018 and 88.2% in 2017.
Graduation rates at Dale Young Community High School have historically been below average, but the school has shown marked improvement in its rate. Dale Young graduated 102 students this year at a rate of 45.1%, a significant increase from 42.7% in 2018 and 35.3% in 2017, meaning the school has increased its graduation rate by nearly 10% in just two years.
A new school, Sunrise High, is currently under construction at the site of the former Dale Young building in Brigham City.
Sunrise High is expected to open in time for the 2020-21 school year.
Monticello High School was one of 14 schools in Utah to have a 100% graduate rate, meaning each of its 300 seniors enrolled graduated, officials said. Last year, there were 10.
Some of the overall gains could be attributed to increased graduation rates among some of the larger demographic groups including students with disabilities, board spokesman Mark Peterson said.
“Equity is a hallmark for the board and that is something that we’re working with all the LEAs (local education agencies) on is to make sure disadvantaged students do better while not having traditional students suffer,” Peterson said.
Despite the growth, the lowest graduation rates were among students who are economically disadvantaged at 77.3%, English learners at 72.8% and students with disabilities at 72.4%, officials said.
Girls graduated at a higher rate than boys, with 89.7% of female students graduating compared with 85.2 percent of males.
“We are proud of the efforts of our educators in helping more students graduate,” said said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson.
Dickson said it’s important to monitor graduation rates because students who don’t graduate from high school are less likely to make a living wage, move on to post-secondary education opportunities, or be civically engaged.
Box Elder County officials are again making their concerns known about a future pipeline that would take water from the Bear River south to Salt Lake City and other thirsty Wasatch Front communities, after a new report from the state that identifies several sites for potential future dams along the Bear River.
A November report from the Utah Division of Water Resources identified 13 potential reservoir combinations and pipeline alignments on the Bear River, including six possible dam sites in Box Elder County.
At the Box Elder County Commission’s last meeting of 2019 last Wednesday, Commissioner Stan Summers said the main issue for the county isn’t necessarily the dams themselves, but the pipelines that would carry water south to population centers along the Wasatch Front.
“Our biggest problem is some of the pipelines they’re looking at now are going right through I-15, Perry, Willard, and we would like to talk a little bit about that,” Summers said. “Can you imagine a 10-foot pipeline full of water going down basically the middle of our county?”
He said the county isn’t formally opposed to the plans in the form of a resolution against them, “but we would like to really have them take a good, long, hard look about where they want to put this.”
Summers said he and his fellow commissioners have been pushing for an alternative pipeline route that would run west of the freeway and population centers of the county.
“We’d like to see them go out through Howell and down through the Promontorys (Promontory Mountains),” he said.
The Utah study addresses some 273,000 acre feet of water from the Bear River that could be stored. Currently, 220,000 acre feet have been allocated to four water districts, including 60,000 acre feet each to the Bear River and Cache districts, and 50,000 acre feet each to the Weber Basin and Jordan Valley districts.
Summers said the new report from the state acknowledges the concerns of the county “in very small letters, because of the plain fact that all three of us (commissioners) have been talking to them about making sure (a pipeline is) not going to go straight down the middle of Box Elder.”
There will be time to work out possible alternate pipeline routes, as any new dams or pipelines aren’t likely to be built for at least 25 years, according to state water officials.
Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said in a news release in November that any such projects under the Bear River Development Act of 1991 will happen later than initially thought.
“When the legislation passed almost 30 years ago, the projected need for this water was in 2015,” Millis said. “Thanks primarily to conservation efforts, new technology and some smaller water development projects, current projections indicate the need for this project has been pushed out to between 2045 to 2050.”