Scott County Commission faces challenge crafting budget

Monday, December 31, 2007

BENTON, Mo. -- When the Scott County Commission returns to work after the New Year they'll have a large challenge awaiting them -- drawing up a budget for 2008 with $400,000 less law enforcement dollars.

Scott County's budget must be approved by Jan. 31 under state rules governing the budget process for third-class counties. Friday was the deadline for department heads to turn in their proposed 2008 budget to County Clerk Rita Milam, the county's chief budget officer.

When commissioners return to their chambers Thursday morning, they'll immediately begin the task of crafting the budget that must take into consideration three months of lost sales tax that was in place for eight years.

The half-cent sales tax for law enforcement was approved by county voters in 2000 to help fund construction of a new jail. It expires Sept. 30.

Last April voters defeated 1,923 to 1,658 a proposal to extend the tax indefinitely. The defeat came largely on an overwhelming number of "no" votes out of Sikeston precincts.

Since 2000 the tax has brought in about $1.6 million per year for law enforcement, with about $725,000 every year going to pay bonds for the construction of the new jail.

Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger estimates about $400,000 worth of revenue will be lost in 2008 due to the expiration of the tax. The county's projected expenditures for law enforcement in 2007 were $3.57 million (a real expenditure number will soon be finalized).

County officials aren't forecasting huge cuts in jobs and services, though. They just expect a challenge in working up a budget that will save more money and finding ways to bring in more revenue through alternative sources.

Milam said this year's budget process will be more difficult than previous years, as she and the commissioners adjust for the tax shortfall.

Burger said the situation may be helped by shrewd spending practices on the part of department heads during 2007. Burger said he's anticipating many departments to come in under their 2007 projected expenditures and have money left over.

"Every elected official realizes what we're facing in 2008," Burger said.

Sheriff Rick Walter's department will be directly affected by the loss of the tax, though the county's general revenue could be indirectly affected if the commission decides to transfer general revenue money to law enforcement expenditures.

Walter said he turned in his budget proposal Friday afternoon, one that relies heavily on alternative funding (like money made from the jail commissary, state prisoner transportation and serving civil papers) to make up for the coming lack of tax money.

"We will look back at what we brought in last year, and hopefully we'll do that or better this year," Walter said. The sheriff plans to meet with commissioners probably this week to scrutinize his budget proposal for 2008.

335-6611, extension 182

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