Shortfall expected from sales tax that expires this year
BENTON -- While finalizing Scott County's budget this month, commissioners will face several obstacles, dealing with a shortchange of revenue and some increased expenditures.
"This is probably going to be one of the hardest budgets we've ever done," said Dennis Ziegenhorn, commissioner, at Thursday's regular meeting. According to state statutes, the budget must be finalized by Jan. 31.
A large shortfall will come from the expiration of a half-cent sales tax on Sept. 30. Passed in 2000 to help fund the construction of a new jail, the tax generated about $1.6 million in 2007, said Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger.
Two payments remain on the jail. Last year's payment was $779,518. Since there is excess that has been banked, that amount more or less covers the second payment.
With the extra cost of maintenance and repairs in the new facility, in addition to the ability to house 120 prisoners -- three times the amount the old jail could -- the additional money generated by the tax, about $700,000 annually, has gone toward the law enforcement budget.
In the budget proposal he submitted last week, Sheriff Rick Walter relied heavily on alternative sources of funding, such as that made from the commissary, state prisoner transportation and serving of civil papers.
Last April, the county's voters defeated a measure that would indefinitely extend the tax. Over the fall, commissioners decided not to put the tax back on the ballot until they got through the 2008 budget to see if the county could survive without that revenue.
"If we balance the budget and we've got the money, we may not need the tax increase," said Ziegenhorn.
So in preparation, the commissioners are being more conservative when it comes to crafting the budget.
"We've got to have responsible expenditures in the budget this year," said Burger.
He and other commissioners applauded elected officials and department heads in the county for beginning to be conscious of the shortfall.
"This being my first budget process, I'm encouraged that there is some carry over," said Commissioner Ron McCormick. "The elected officials are being cautious with the budgets that we have and we appreciate that."
Burger agreed. "The money was budgeted for them to spend, but at the same time they didn't spend it," he said. "I think they're being good ambassadors of the people's tax dollars."
While commissioners reviewed expenditures from 2007 at Thursday's meeting, Burger said they look about the same as they do each year. He explained that the budget is made up of the dollars carried over from one year to the next, in order to balance the budget.
Burger noted that health insurance costs are on the rise, and the county will pay an additional $125.31 monthly per employee this year, which is a raise in expenditures.
In November, the county's salary commission approved a cost of living adjustment for county employees. However, the commission gets the final say in the amount -- if there is one at all -- and commissioners have not yet reached that point.
Ziegenhorn said he would like to be able to give employees a raise. "I will not vote for an elected official pay raise, though," he said.
The 911 center, which generates fewer tax dollars due to the increased use of cell phones that don't have a surcharge, also dips into the general revenue. Commissioners are attempting to combat that problem by forming a regional 911 center, with Scott County as the hub.
In related business, the county's 911 Advisory Board held its monthly meeting on Thursday. Then, Burger advised members he would meet Thursday afternoon with Sikeston lawyer Jim Hux for a written opinion on how to set up a 911 board -- through elections or appointments and other guidelines.
Members asked how long it would take to hire a director. Since the resignation of former director Lisa Mullin in June, duties have been split between John Nelson, jail administrator, and Missy Bruce, shift supervisor.
Problems, mostly dealing with personnel, arise because there is no real chain of command, or some in positions of leadership have their hands tied on certain issues, members explained.