Due to this year's tight budget, employees will not receive a pay raise
BENTON -- Full reimbursements from the state for mandates would relieve some stress from county budgets, say Scott County Commissioners.
"If the state of Missouri would fund prisoner reimbursements and everything else the county has to do on behalf of the state, I don't think you'd see the state of Missouri standing up there and saying they have a surplus," said Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger at Thursday's regular Scott County Commission meeting. His remarks were a response to Gov. Blunt's State of the State address on Tuesday evening.
Merely receiving partial -- if any -- reimbursements for several mandates strains county budgets, Burger continued.
One example is reimbursement for state prisoners, which make up about 97 percent of the jail's population over the year. Although the state pays $21.25 daily to house the prisoners, the county still loses about $13 a day per prisoner.
"There's no reason for us to believe that's not going to grow this year," said Ron McCormick, commissioner, citing increases in food costs.
Another issue brought up in the address was that local governments should increase property taxes.
"I'm not for increasing property taxes," said Burger. "But in some point in time, if we don't have any money, what are we supposed to do?"
State help is also needed to help fund E-911, commissioners noted.
That money strain was a big issue in the past weeks as commissioners crafted the county budget for 2008. With a loss of revenue due to the expiration of the law enforcement sales tax, in addition to other rising costs, it was a large task this year.
One casualty in the budget is that employees will not receive a cost of living adjustment.
"Our employees deserve merit raises and cost of living adjustments, but we just don't have the money," said Burger.
County employees who take advantage of the health insurance will also pay $264 in premiums for the year as a whole, since commissioners didn't want to "fiddle" with the copays and deductibles, said McCormick. However, a one-
time "employee incentive" check for $300 will be given to each county employee at the end of the month, said Dennis Ziegenhorn, commissioner.
For the most part, the budget process is complete. A final copy of the budget is up for approval on Tuesday, when there will be a public hearing at 10 a.m. at the courthouse.
"There are actually not any cuts, but there aren't any increases, either, from what we did last year," said Ziegenhorn.
He also said that, after looking into the benefits and disadvantages of making the last jail payment earlier, it's more beneficial for the county to wait.
"We can't spend that money now and and hope the sales tax, fees, etc. come in and we'll still have enough money to pay the monthly bills," said Burger. "The reward versus the risk isn't great enough to pursue that."
Commissioners said, however, they will continue to look at large and small ways to save money.
One helpful aspect is that on average, the departments only spent about 88 percent of their 2007 budgets. The county carried over that surplus, about $1.35 million, for this year's budget.
Commissioners applauded the elected officials for being conscious of the tight funds, and Burger said they are relied on to continue those shrewd practices.
In other business, Rita Milam, county clerk, said that pink voter registration cards were mailed and should be received.
"If you don't receive one, contact our office," said Milam. For those in the southern part of the county, she is available from 4 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday at the Sikeston satellite office 514 S. Main.
Also, for those who need to vote absentee for the Feb. 5 primary election, the county clerk's office will be open from 8 a.m. to noon Feb 2.