Commission approves tight 2020 county spending plan

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 2/5/20

Like wearing a pair of shoes a size too small, Gasconade County officeholders will be walking as lightly as possible through this fiscal year, always mindful of the pain being caused by a too-tight …

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Commission approves tight 2020 county spending plan

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Like wearing a pair of shoes a size too small, Gasconade County officeholders will be walking as lightly as possible through this fiscal year, always mindful of the pain being caused by a too-tight budget.

Confident it had cut all it could – and having found no more rocks to turn over in search of a few more revenue dollars — the County Commission Thursday morning signed off on the 2020 operating budget that sees the all-important General Revenue Fund ending the year with a positive balance of less than $19,000.

At least, county officials say, maybe it will end with that much. Any significant unexpected expenses, or a continued slide in the sales tax revenue, will make it more likely that administrators will be forced to dip into the reserve fund to keep the budget balanced. County government has never had to reach into the reserve fund to pay the bills.

Under this year’s budget, the General Revenue Fund, which fuels the bulk of county government operations, will have available a projected $2,461,604. Expenses are projected to be $2,442,642, which leaves a year-end balance of $18,962. But that year-end balance is contingent on a number of factors — from the potential increased costs of handling municipal court cases at the county Circuit Court level to an uncertain sales tax revenue outlook during the year to the timely receipt of state money to help cover the cost of housing inmates awaiting trial.

County Clerk Lesa Lietzow, the chief budget officer, in her budget message calls the ending balance “uncomfortably low.”

“The most unfortunate news of 2019 was watching the final tally of the half-cent sales tax received dropping below the $1-million mark,” she said.

The county ended 2018 receiving $1,006,000 only to see 2019 end with receiving about $990,000 in sales tax money going into the General Revenue Fund. That forced budget makers to project higher-than-probable sales tax revenue in 2020 to help improve the financial outlook.

The budget calls for sales tax revenue of $1,016,000 this year — a level that Lietzow earlier conceded likely would not be seen. Indeed, the new year has begun on a less-than-optimistic note regarding sales tax dollars. The January reimbursement check from state government was significantly lower than the January 2019 amount.

February’s sales tax report could be delivered to the County Commission tomorrow morning by Treasurer Mike Feagan when the administrative panel meets at Owensville City Hall.

“The bigger question of how to fix the revenue shortfall is the hardest to answer,” Lietzow noted in the budget message. “After having six failures of the use tax question and two failures of the law enforcement tax, Commission left asking what to try next.”

Despite being extremely tight, the County Commission is able to provide a 3-percent pay raise for employees, along with the 5-cent-per-hour increase based on years of service. The various officeholders can distribute that 3-percent increase to their employees as they see fit.

As the county clerk pointed out, the officeholders will be keeping a close watch on their departments’ expenses as they move through the year.

“While the officials are so good at staying within the budget numbers approved, this year will prove to be the most difficult yet  and it’s obvious from discussions held . . . many are worried about it and if going over budget happens, it will be handled in the best way possible. Hopefully, Commissioners see their way through to finding some new funding option to stop the bleeding of these hard-working, dedicated elected officials,” Lietzow said in the message.

But the reference to the County Commission taking action to find additional dollars — which at this point seems to be whether or not to seek another vote on a use tax — drew a response from Southern District Associate Commissioner Jerry Lairmore, R-Owensville. “It’s a good budget message, but it’s not just the Commission that needs to look for added revenue,” he said, adding that the officeholders also should look for new dollars wherever possible. “We all have to work together.”

Commissioners are scheduled to convene at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Owensville City Hall.

The meeting is open to the public.

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