As expected, the Barry County Commission adopted a very conservative budget for 2009 following a public hearing on Jan. 22. County officeholders will be operating under a $3.8 million spending plan that is almost identical to the amount budgeted in 2008.
For the second year in a row, the county was unable to give employee pay raises. Based on figures released by Treasurer Lois Lowe, the county is expecting their half-cent sales tax to generate $1,839,850, which is 3 percent less than last year.
The sales tax represents 51 percent of the county's revenue. The county does not receive any property tax revenue. Lowe is also anticipating that the county will receive $907,005 in intergovernmental revenues, $728,000 in service fees, $7,800 in interest and $115,323 in other revenue.
"There is not money in the budget for salary increases," said Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren. "If the money was there, we would have done it. It's not that we don't think our employees deserve it, because they do. The money just isn't there."
Warren also pointed out that the county really has no idea what sales tax will do in the coming year.
"Who knows what it will be? We think we're in the ball park with a 3 percent (decrease)," said Warren. "Unless it goes below 9 percent, we should be okay. If it goes down by 9 percent or more, we'd have to make cuts."
Warren said if the sales tax turns out to generate more than expected, the commission could look at the budget again mid-year and possibly issue pay raises at that time.
"We don't think that will happen though," said Warren. "We think our budget is reasonable."
The 2009 budget does include funding for the salaries of two additional jailers and an additional part-time cook for the jail. These positions had to be added to serve the newly expanded jail, which will have the capacity to house 80 inmates.
This year's budget also includes $91,450 in capital projects funding. This amount will be used as a loan payment for the Barry County Jail addition. The county had to take out a $200,000 loan to complete the project, which should be operational by the end of February.
Two days before adopting the 2009 budget, Barry County commissioners held a public forum to discuss the county financial situation. During that meeting, the county's dilemma became clear. Without an additional revenue source, pay raises and expanded services were an impossibility.
The commissioners presented the option of placing a quarter-cent sales tax on the April ballot but were hesitant to make that move without support from the public. Based on input received at the forum, the commission took no action on a sales tax increase. It was the general opinion of those in attendance at the forum that increasing the sales tax would be a hard sell during tough economic times.
"We're thankful we're in Barry County because we're not affected as much as other areas," said Warren. "We're fortunate our economy has held up as well as it has."
The Commission also made a point to thank the county officeholders for their cooperation in a tough budget year.
"The officeholders have been very understanding and good to work with," said Warren. "It's not been an easy year to budget."
A complete 2009 budget breakdown with comparisons to 2008 budget figures accompanies this article.