Scott County budget dips into reserves

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

BENTON, Mo. -- Scott County Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger calls this year's Scott County budget "solid."

"All in all I feel pretty confident about what we've done in this budget," Burger said at Tuesday morning's public hearing on the budget at the Scott County Courthouse. "There's always going to be unknown variables, but barring something unforeseen happening, we're solid."

The county commission held its public hearing over the budget and passed the document unanimously. Only one person other than government officials and news media attended the hearing -- Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce Director Missy Marshall.

In expenditures and estimated revenue the 2008 budget looks similar to the one passed in 2007. The county estimates bringing in about $3.3 million for its general revenue funding, with expenditures estimated at about $4.5 million.

Part of approximately $1.35 million in general revenue funds carried over from 2007 will be used to help make up that difference. Every year Scott County factors some leftover funds into the budget, though they might not be spent, instead being carried over to the next year.

This year the county's sales tax revenue for law enforcement will drop from about $1.75 million in 2007 to $1.35 million. That drop is attributed to the expiration of the county's half-cent sales tax for law enforcement, set to expire in September.

The county will also pay the final bond payment for the jail built in 2000 with sales tax financing this year at a cost of $780,000.

Commissioners and County Clerk Rita Milam, the county's chief budget officer, were able to make up for the loss of about $400,000 in a number of ways, such as an estimated $75,000 increase in state fees for prisoner room and board, and law enforcement fund projected revenue are actually higher than those of 2007. About $350,000 of the lost revenue is from the sales tax that will expire in September, Milam said.

The large carry-over of unused budgeted general revenue funds from last year provided some extra money during budgeting, but if all the budgeted funds are spent this year, only $204,000 of that money will remain.

Burger called the budget "realistic."

Milam said it's hard to tell how much money will be available next year. If department heads have a year like 2007, the carry over could continue. If not, Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn said the 2009 budget process could be grim.

One way the county government will save costs this year is by not budgeting cost of living pay raises for county employees, who received a 3.5 percent raise last year. Instead, each county employee will get a $300, one-time payout at the end of this month. Elected officials will get no pay raises, nor the $300 county employees get.

"I'll be the first to say our employees deserve more," Burger said.

A 1 percent pay raise for the county's roughly 100 employees costs about $27,000, Burger said.

Commissioners said they hope to include a raise in next year's budget, but that can't be guaranteed.

Before the 2009 budget is crafted, Scott County also hopes to get some relief for its hemorrhaging E-911 fund. About $140,000 is expected to be transferred into that fund from general revenue this year, compared to about $52,000 last year. The transfers are needed as upgrade costs continue but taxes from land lines phones drops.

A legislative committee formed last year reported a need to find funding for 911 statewide. But Scott County isn't optimistic those recommendations have a chance of being addressed soon.

Ziegenhorn said he's "not optimistic" about the general assembly coming up with a real fix.

Scott County is also in discussions with two other Bootheel counties to create a regional 911 service, which officials hope will save costs.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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