County commissioners forced to trim '08 budget

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Slowing economy produces budget lower than 2007 spending plan

By Lisa Schlichtman

With sales tax revenues coming in lower than predicted last year and in response to a stressed economy, the Barry County Commission was forced to keep spending in check by approving a budget that is slightly less than the 2007 budget total.

On Jan. 24, the Commission approved a $3,733,823 budget for 2008, which is $135,326 or 3.4 percent less than what was actually spent for county government in 2007. The approved budget is also $249,999 or 6 percent less than officeholders requested.

In 2008, the Commission is predicting sales tax revenue of $1,931,656, which is a 2 percent increase over the actual amount received in 2007. Other revenue estimates for 2008 include: $860,729 in intergovernmental revenues; $671,077 in charges for services; $33,374 in interest; and $98,499 in other revenues. The county also carries over $139,666 from last year for a total 2008 revenue projection of $3,734,995.

"It's been a tough year for the Commission's budget," said Barry County Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren. "We made cuts we didn't want to make but we have to live within our means."

One of the budget requests that was reduced significantly was in the capital projects fund. The Commission had initially suggested placing $200,000 in the capital projects budget for the Barry County Jail expansion project. This is the amount the county has been setting aside each year since 2004, and to date, there is $708,000 in that fund.

After studying the projected costs of the project as well as revenue projections, the Commission lowered its capital projects spending to $91,450 for 2008. With the $708,000 already in the project fund, the Commission will be able to put $800,000 in cash toward the expansion project, which is expected to cost around $1,000,000 to complete.

The county has already awarded $472,815 in bids for the jail pods, which will be delivered in April. The Commission will be opening bids for a general contractor for the project this Thursday, Jan. 31.

"We expect to have to pay around $500,000 for a general contractor, which comes to around $1 million," said Warren. "We will be adding 32 new cells with three beds per cell rather than two. So the new jail will be able to house 80 prisoners."

Currently, the jail has a 32-bed capacity, and in 2007, the average jail occupancy was 48 prisoners.

The other area where budget requests were trimmed was salary increases. Although each officeholder asked for pay increases for their employees, the Commission had to deny those requests due to budget concerns.

"We did not give salary increases to any employees," said Warren. "We're not saying our employees don't deserve it, there's just no money for it."

Warren said the county did absorb a $300 a year increase per employee for increased healthcare costs. This $25 a month increase is being paid by the county for any employee who has county health insurance.

In 2007, Barry County collected $1,893,780.91 in sales tax revenue, which represented an increase of 1.9 percent over 2006 revenue totals. The county had budgeted for a 5 percent increase in sales tax.

Warren reminded citizens that the county does not collect any personal property tax and is supported solely by sales tax revenues and fees.

"We haven't had a sales tax increase since 1994," said Warren. "We've accomplished quite a bit with the sales tax but we've done some of that at the expense of law enforcement.

"Right now a lot of people our tightening their belts and so are we," Warren continued. "Our budget is practically the same as last year, and we'll continue to provide the best services we can to the county."

The Commission also thanked the officeholders for their cooperation in making tough budget decisions.

"There's not an officeholder who did not contribute to this budget," said Warren. "We continue to work together and everyone understands the position the Commission is in. The buck stops here and balancing the budget is our job."

After budget discussions concluded last Thursday, Warren summed up the county's financial situation in one simple sentence.

"We hit a little bump in the road, but I've been on very few roads that were downhill all the way," said Warren.

Warren said he was optimistic that the county's financial picture would improve in 2008. "We don't think we need to do a knee jerk reaction. I think 2008 might be better in Barry County."

A chart detailing the county's 2008 budget by department and comparing it to 2007 budget figures accompanies this article.

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