County off to ‘good start’ as 2021 budget preparations begin

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 1/13/21

HERMANN — The process of cobbling this year’s budget for Gasconade County government is a much more enjoyable endeavor for officials than it was a year ago, even as the coronavirus …

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County off to ‘good start’ as 2021 budget preparations begin

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HERMANN — The process of cobbling this year’s budget for Gasconade County government is a much more enjoyable endeavor for officials than it was a year ago, even as the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the local economy lingers.

Despite the shutdown of key revenue producers such as sit-down restaurants, the year ended strong for county government — unbelievably strong, considering the slow start prior to the arrival of the virus. Indeed, General Fund sales tax revenue hit a new high for Gasconade County at $1,037,402 — $31,000 more than the $1.006 million received in 2018.

This year, the County Commission begins its budget work with a January sales tax check that’s $2,100 larger than the January 2020 amount. Last year’s check, incidentally, was almost $22,000 smaller than the January 2019 check.

County Clerk Lesa Lietzow reported on this month’s promising sales tax reimbursement at last week’s Commission session held in Owensville City Hall. “It’s a good start,” she said, filling in for County Treasurer Mike Feagan, who was sidelined recently by the coronavirus.

The panel of county administrators are scheduled to meet this morning to continue working on this year’s budget, which must be adopted by the end of this month. The Commission will meet in regular session tomorrow at the Courthouse.

Officials already have been putting pencil to paper — and using their erasers — on some of the funding requests already received by the various county government departments. New Sheriff Scott Eiler was quick to feel the sting of the Commission’s budget knife. Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel noted that Eiler was asked to “rework his numbers” to include only two new vehicles instead of the four he initially requested. The trimming of the Sheriff’s Department budget brings the annual appropriation to the agency to under $1 million, Miskel said.

The Sheriff’s Department claims the lion’s share of the county’s General Revenue dollars.

The county’s Road Department also has a hefty budget — about as large as the total General Revenue Fund — thanks to its own sales tax source. However, that agency’s administrators also saw their budget request viewed with a raised eyebrow by the commissioners.

“We have cut some areas in the (Road Department) budget,” Miskel said.

“Even though we cut about $300,000, we feel we still are not cutting our services to the citizens of Gasconade County,” the presiding commissioner said.

But it’s not all cuts that will be made to departmental requests.

For instance, as the county continues to search for an emergency management director, the commissioners agreed to bump the funding for the position by a couple thousand dollars to $49,659 — even though all of that might not be needed. The successor to outgoing EMD Dan Dyer will be on a part-time basis, working less than 1,000 hours, officials noted. Dyer’s resignation was effective at the end of last year, but he agreed to remain on board until a qualified successor is found. Part of the position’s funding in the new budget will be used to pay Dyer until his successor is hired.

Despite the unexpected good fortune regarding the General Revenue sales tax last year, Gasconade County has lost a substantial amount of money that could have been collected if the county had in place a use tax — a sales tax applied to purchases made over the Internet and through catalogs — especially as online sales have exploded during the pandemic.

To that end, commissioners are expected to seek another vote — the seventh in about the last 10 years — to win a use tax. 

With only one regularly scheduled vote on this year’s calendar — the April General Municipal Election — county administrators are eying a special election to avoid the possibility of having a use tax question on the same ballot as some other local tax issue. The budget for the County Clerk’s Office will include about $20,000 to cover the cost of a special election.

Meanwhile, at last week’s session the Commission received the paperwork from Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) on the final four applications that were approved a week earlier for CARES Act money. Those four — Hermann Area Chamber of Commerce, Rosebud Community Parks Association, Gasconade County Historical Society and Gasconade County Fair Association — each received $25,000. They previously were approved tentatively at significantly higher amounts, pending favorable recommendations from MRPC. 

But being non-profit organizations, they faced a maximum allotment of $25,000. That amount was set by the Commission when it set aside $700,000 of the county’s $1.275-million CARES Act allocation for businesses and non-profit groups that lost revenue and operating funds because of the coronavirus.

Funding those four requests left the county with about $65,000 unspent. Under the CARES Act guidelines, that money will have to be returned to the federal government. That is, unless the state government, which directed to the funding to the county, gets approval from the federal government to use the remaining money.

The presiding commissioner said he was concerned early on by the slow pace of local businesses to apply for a share of the funding. However, as the program moved forward more businesses opted to seek a portion of the funding.

“I am pleased with what has transpired as far as the CARES funding is concerned,” Miskel said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of dispersing these funds,” he said.

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