County officials set for mid-year budget review

BY BUCK COLLIER, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
Posted 7/14/21

HERMANN — Tomorrow morning’s mid-year operating budget review session marks a rare event in Gasconade County government: One of the few times in a year all elected officeholders are in the same …

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County officials set for mid-year budget review

Posted

HERMANN — Tomorrow morning’s mid-year operating budget review session marks a rare event in Gasconade County government: One of the few times in a year all elected officeholders are in the same room.

It should be a good meeting, considering that county government is in the middle of a budget year funded by what turned out to be a record sales tax year, despite the local economy being in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic and all its related effects.

The gathering is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., which gives the County Commission plenty of time to take care of the weekly agenda of items.

County Clerk Lesa Lietzow, the county’s chief budget officer, last week said the mid-year review offers a good opportunity for county administrators to talk with all the officeholders, many of whom they might only formally once a year — at budget time, if they happen to have questions about their particular office’s proposed funding.

“We don’t meet with everybody that often, but it’s a good chance to talk to them,” Lietzow said.

As good as this year was at the outset regarding the General Fund sales tax — 2020 ended with the county receiving $1,037,402, the most ever — next year could be even better for the officeholders and their employees. The county is on pace to set a new mark in sales tax receipts.

County Treasurer Mike Feagan last week reported that the July sales tax reimbursement check from the state was for $101,422, the second consecutive month the county received more than $100,000 in sales tax. This month’s check is almost $4,000 larger than the July 2020 check and brings the 7-month total for this year to $624,795. That’s almost $52,700 ahead of the 7-month total of a year ago.

“We had a good month,” Feagan said. The concern, he said, is how large the reimbursement check will be for August. “Typically, August is a low month,” he said.

Figures show that August fluctuates from a low of $59,429 in 2017 to last year’s high-water mark of $85,495. But with six of the first seven months of this year running ahead of the same month a year ago, county administrators are optimistic about continuing the healthy sales tax run through August.

Also at last week’s session, the Commission appointed Laura Hengstenberg of Owensville to the board of Scenic Regional Library District to serve the remainder of the term of Diann Wacker of Owensville. Wacker recently stepped down from the Scenic board with three years remaining on her term.

At the session a week earlier, the administrative panel formally amended the county budget to include two new funds: Gasconade County Cemetery Fund and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Fund. The cemetery maintenance fund was prompted by a court’s ruling against the county in a lawsuit involving the Richardson Cemetery in the southern part of the county. The fund is fueled by a $5,000 donation from the former caretaker of the cemetery, as well as other donations.

The ARPA Fund was created to hold the $1.4-million allocation received recently as part of the federal economic stimulus package adopted earlier this year. Gasconade County is in line to receive another $1.4 million next year, Feagan said.

The county has until the end of 2024 to obligate the use of the money and it has until the end of 2026 to spend the money, the treasurer said.

However, county officials are nowhere near ready to start appropriating the money. County officials still don’t know exactly what the money can be used for, although there have been some suggestions from agencies such as the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC), which administered the county’s CARES Act money and is under contract to perform the same service regarding the ARPA funds.

But as Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, noted Thursday morning, there is little definitive information available from anyone regarding the use of the $2.825 million allocated to Gasconade County.

“The guidance so far …they’ve not given us a lot of guidance,” he said.

Infrastructure seems to be high on the list of likely uses for both counties and cities, but, as county officials said, it’s not clear what definition of “infrastructure” is being used regarding the ARPA money. Until more detailed information is received regarding the use of the money, Gasconade County officials are content to keep the funds in the bank earning interest.

That’s more than municipalities can do at this point. Miskel noted that cities are getting their ARPA money from state government — and they haven’t received any of the funds. Counties are receiving their money directly from the federal government.

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