County revenue shortfall in ‘20 a ‘terrible, terrible problem’ PA tells commissioners

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 1/15/20

HERMANN — All the way to the bone.

That’s where Gasconade County officeholders took their budget knives last week after being sent back to the drawing board by the County Commission, …

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County revenue shortfall in ‘20 a ‘terrible, terrible problem’ PA tells commissioners

Posted

HERMANN — All the way to the bone.

That’s where Gasconade County officeholders took their budget knives last week after being sent back to the drawing board by the County Commission, which was looking at a badly unbalanced General Revenue budget for 2020 resulting from the initial round of funding requests.

After a sometimes impassioned discussion with several officeholders Thursday morning, the County Commission resolved itself to bring the revenue-and-expense ledger into balance however it could. The second round of budget requests from the various departments lowered the year-end projected deficit from $163,591 to $37,801 — still an unacceptable number to county administrators.

However, after a nearly two-hour discussion during Thursday’s weekly session, Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel acknowledged that officeholders had done all they could to pare expenses. 

“I can say everyone has cut to where it is,” he said. “There is no more.”

Indeed, Prosecuting Attorney Mary Weston strongly voiced concern about losing so much of her office’s operating budget, excluding salaries and benefits. The cuts to that portion of her budget amounted to almost 50 percent. “I was asked to cut my budget 47 percent,” she said. “I can’t run a prosecutor’s office with half of my budget tied behind my back.”

At a special Commission session last Tuesday, officeholders were directed to refigure their spending requests, getting as close to the actual expense numbers of 2019 — not their 2019 budgeted amounts — as possible to erase the $163,591 projected deficit.

“I trust these elected officials,” said Southern District Associate Commissioner Jerry Lairmore. “I can’t say it enough. If they can cut, they will.”

Making one of the largest cuts was Sheriff John Romanus, who sliced $60,000 from the 2019 actual expense. That includes cuts in projected expense for housing inmates in Crawford County and taking a new vehicle out of the 2020 spending plan. Romanus initially had proposed a budget that included two new vehicles and one used vehicle.

“That’s not going to happen,” said Miskel at Tuesday’s budget workshop session after hearing of the sheriff’s plans for the new vehicles.

The sheriff was not at Thursday’s Commission session to talk about his proposed budget.

Weston was strident in her message to Miskel, Lairmore and Northern District Associate Commissioner Jim Holland of Hermann — the cuts will hurt her office’s ability in the coming year. For instance, she noted that there will be no training for her staff. Mileage and meals for handling cases in other counties was cut from $2,500 for the year to $1,000. Weston said this could be an even busier year for her office than was 2019. There were no jury trials in Gasconade County last year. This year there are five scheduled.

Furthermore, the budget cuts are coming at a time when money coming into her office in the form of fees is being reduced. With more using debit cards to pay fines, there is little money being generated by bad-check fees. Also, she said, a restitution fee that was assessed to defendants in the past is no longer applied to all defendants, a result of a change in state law.

The revenue shortfall, Weston said, “is a terrible, terrible problem.”

The question for county administrators is how to fix the problem, especially during a period of slipping sales tax revenue. Last year’s total sales tax receipts fell short of the 2018 amount, which topped the $1-million mark. Last year’s total came in at $990,969.

This year’s sales tax watch isn’t starting any better than last year’s ended. Indeed, Treasurer Mike Feagan reported January’s sales tax reimbursement from the state to be $78,448, compared to $90,000 received in January of 2019. Commissioners are still perplexed as to why county sales tax continues to be down significantly while the state and local municipalities are reporting growth in sales tax revenue.

Feagan suggested that while residents on the southern end of the county shop at the Owensville Walmart, residents on the northern end of the county are going to places such as Washington, Warrenton and other communities that offer a variety of retail shopping not available in the Hermann area.

Some creative budget-making has been used to make the latest spending plan look a bit less painful. County Clerk Lesa Lietzow, the county’s chief budget officer, increased the projected sales tax revenue to more than was received in 2018.

The new projected sales tax revenue is $1,016,000 — an amount that Lietzow concedes is not likely to be seen. “I don’t believe for one minute we’ll get that much money,” she said Thursday morning.

If there was one positive note coming out of the Thursday session, it is that outside agencies that depend on county funding could come through the budget effort unscathed, thanks in large part to such small increases being sought from the county. Those agencies include the University of Missouri Extension Center and the Gasconade County Historical Society. In the larger budget picture, those agencies’ funding requests are very small. “I don’t think we’re down to a nickel-and-dime mode yet,” said Miskel.

The lastest version of budget requests show the various offices asking for a total of $2,420,980, compared to their 2019 actual expenses of $2,388,819. The initial budget requests for this year totaled $2,527,952, which means the offices trimmed a total of $107,000 from their initial requests.

In the all-important General Revenue Fund, which fuels most county government services, Gasconade County starts off with a balance of $122,256 and has projected revenue during the year of $2,330,848 making the total funds available $2,453,104. Total requests for expenses amount to $2,490,905, which includes a 3-percent portion for the county’s emergency fund ($69,925) as required by state law.

Third-class counties have until the end of January to adopt a new operating budget.

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