Line items being added to track county spending

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 9/30/19

Gasconade County’s future operating budgets likely will include additional line items to account for funding overruns in specific spending areas.

The County Commission’s move Thursday …

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Line items being added to track county spending

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Gasconade County’s future operating budgets likely will include additional line items to account for funding overruns in specific spending areas.

The County Commission’s move Thursday morning to add more lines to the line-item budget stems from a few issues:

• the Road Department being forced to spend more than was allotted for materials to repair damage caused by repeated heavy rains;

• the need to more clearly see exactly how much is spent on road overlays and how much is spent on patching potholes;

• and tracking some county government offices’ use of dollars from an unrelated fund within the office’s operating budget to meet costs that normally would be covered from an already-depleted fund.

The discussion was sparked by Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel’s update on the conversion of Frene Creek Road from gravel to a chip-and-seal coating. At this point, white rock is being put down as a first step in converting the road. White rock has been put down on about seven-tenths of the 2.6-mile portion of the road targeted for conversion.

However, Miskel noted, because of the need to make repairs on roads throughout the county’s highway system as a result of storm damage, the Road Department already is running $4,000 over the amount budgeted for white rock. To finish putting down white rock on the remaining 1.9 miles of Frene Creek Road, Miskel estimates that another $27,000 of the material will be needed.

Whether that gets done this year is questionable, considering other needs for white rock that might develop on other roads. To meet that need, Miskel told Associate Commissioners Jerry Lairmore of Owensville and Jim Holland of Hermann that he has authorized the Road Department to make purchases of white rock as needed.

As for moving forward this year on the Frene Creek Road project, the county’s top administrator is not optimistic. “I don’t see a way we can cover that 1.9 miles in this year’s budget,” Miskel said.

He said he would talk with property owners along the road about the funding situation and discuss possible options. Those property owners already have contributed about $30,000 of their own money to help finance a chip-and-seal coating.

There has also been a recent request from a landowner on Baker Road to consider creating a hard-surface on that road east  of Owensville which leads to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The property owners’ donation of funds effectively pushed the Frene Creeek Road project to the top of the list of roads to be upgraded. However, Lairmore, R-Owensville, questioned whether the County Commission agreed to complete the project this year.

“We have to follow protocol. We have to watch the budget,” Lairmore said.

His reference to protocol involves the county having adequate right-of-way and establishing a solid base before applying the chip-and-seal coating.

But Holland mentioned that accepting property owners’ donations for a project such amounts to an inference — albeit not a solid commitment — that the project would be done in that particular year.

That brought County Clerk Lesa Lietzow into the discussion, pointing out that projects such as Frene Creek Road should be specified in the operating budget, rather than mentioned as part of a larger group of roads the County Commission hopes to make improvements to during a particular year. Especially the chip-and-seal and asphalt overlay projects, which carry a larger price tag than regular gravel-road maintenance work.

“That’s where we need the details,” said Lietzow, who is the county’s chief budget officer.

Lairmore said he thinks the property owners along Frene Creek Road will understand the county’s budget issues and be willing to wait a little longer to see the conversion project finished. “I don’t think they thought it was all going to be  done in one year,” the Southern District associate commissioner said.

He also said he has some reservations about being specific in listing roads to be upgraded. “That leaves your other roads to fall by the wayside,” he said. “How detailed do you get in the budget? I don’t know if you can get that detailed.”

Holland acknowledged the potential problem of moving projects ahead on the Road Department’s to-do list. “That a double-edged sword — bumping people ahead,” Holland said, recognizing the move is normal regarding public projects. “It happens, a lot; I’m not saying it’s right or wrong,” he said.

Lairmore remained concerned about committing the use of tax dollars for specific projects at the outset of a year, not knowing what needs might arise as the year progresses. “If you specify a road, you’ve got to do it. I’m not going to go back on” a commitment once it’s given, he said.

From his perspective, projects such as the Frene Creek Road conversion are no different than any other public improvement. “Whether it takes one year, five years or whatever, the budget dictates that,” Lairmore said.

Lietzow’s office will begin the annual budget-assembly process in November, gathering funding wish lists of various county offices. Those funding requests will be measured against the anticipated revenue for 2020 and a proposed budget crafted for commission consideration by the end of the year.

While the county’s new budget year begins Jan. 1, commissioners have until the end of January to formally adopt a budget. That allows county administrators a little more time to determine the amount of taxes available for use in the next year. Property owners have until Dec. 31 to pay their taxes before they become delinquent.

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