County commission says emergency fund looking good

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Rainy-day emergency fund has surplus thanks to 1/8-cent tax

Cherry Warren, Barry County presiding commissioner, reports that the county's emergency fund is better shape than it has been in several years.

"The emergency fund is an expenditure in the budget," Warren said. "That's the surplus we set aside, kind of like a rainy day fund. If you have a shortfall in sales tax, you can go into the emergency fund to help balance your books. It's considered to be in better shape than in recent years, thanks to the 1/8-cent sales tax."

Warren said the commission has been growing the fund, and hopes to continue that trend.

"We usually have a few ups and downs, so if you've got a nice cushion there in the tough times, then you have that," he said. "Barry County relies on the sales tax and fees and doesn't have a real estate tax."

Warren said taxes go to several different entities and in different percentages to cover a variety of needs and services.

About 75-80 percent of taxes go toward schools, then roads are the next biggest ticket items, he said. Taxes also go to help fund the South Barry County Ambulance District, to help provide EMS and hospital services, to the local library to provide educational services, the health department, the senior center and other smaller entities.

"There are lots of levies," Warren said. "The taxes [taken in] don't go to the county, but to the entities. You set aside funds in the good times so you have enough and can ride those out without making any cuts in services."

If revenues were to drop and money from the fund had to be spent, Warren predicted it would be most likely be applied toward general ticket items.

"If you look at our budget, we reduce our revenue below the previous year in anticipation of revenues dropping, but if they don't, then we're in good shape. If our revenues drop below what we budgeted for, we've got an emergency reserve, but it would be general revenues we'd spend it on, not any one thing.

"Now, if you get a huge cut like we did before, some expenditures are fixed, such as public safety is one of our big ones, there's more to cut from public safety."

If agriculture revenues continue to drop for local cattlemen, saving for a rainy day may become more of a necessity than just a goal. Therefore, it's best to keep the emergency fund in good shape to avoid cuts like layoffs, Warren said.

"If you look at cattle prices today compared to last year, they're 30-40 percent cheaper, and how much that will affect our economy, we don't know. We try to be pretty realistic and conservative in our budgeting."

Warren said although sales revenues were somewhat down initially at the beginning of the year, overall he believes the emergency fund, and local economy, is in good shape.

"The economy is pretty good," he said. "It's not near as robust as it was [in the beginning of last year], but, hopefully, our sales tax will continue like it has."

Warren said a capital projects fund, by comparison, is money set aside for building projects.

In 2003, the county had such a surplus that it was able to build a state-of-the-art judicial center and new jail facility.

"We had $2 million in capital projects at the time," he said. "We could see we needed a new judicial center. We were running out of room and there was no parking. We also have an 80-bed jail and a new evidence room. That cost $100,000. They were very much needed.

"We don't have a capital projects fund. We're putting a roof on the jail, but that would be a capital expense, and we like to have some money set aside for that. That's how we built the judicial center. We put money back. And when we did, we just wrote a check for it. If you look at our record of what we've accomplished, I think we've done a pretty good job of taking care of taxes for the taxpayers. I've enjoyed working for the people and hopefully we've made some progress."

Warren has served as presiding commissioner for the county for 22 years.

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