Barry County adopts lean budget for 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Expecting sales tax revenue to decrease in 2013, the Barry County Commission adopted a $3.1 million budget last Thursday.

The county's 2013 budget totals $3,173,703, which is $437,870 less than last year's spending plan and $322,743 less than the amount actually spent.

"There was really not much left to cut," said Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren. "The county runs a pretty tight ship."

The new budget is almost identical to 2012's totals with county officeholders keeping their spending in line with last year. For the sixth year in a row, Barry County's budget does not allow for cost-of-living pay increases for its employees.

After making cuts to public safety last year to meet less than optimistic revenue projections, the sheriff's department will continue to operate on just over $600,000 a year. In 2012, the sheriff was forced to lay off three deputies and those positions will not be reinstated under the budget plan adopted last week.

One major budget change involves the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force. Last year, the county included $150,000 in its budget for the task force, and in the 2013, that expense has been eliminated.

According to Warren, McDonald County will be taking over the administration of the task force, which includes accounting and payroll. Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly will remain as chairman of the task force and its office will stay in Cassville.

"We were doing the payroll for the task force through the county, and it was basically a wash," explained Warren. "McDonald County showed an interest in taking over the book work, and we welcomed it."

Epperly said the administrative change will not affect the county's involvement in the task force. Barry County will continue to contribute $10,000 annually to the task force, which is supported by a federal grant. Barry and McDonald counties, as well as municipalities within both jurisdictions, all contribute to provide a match for the federal grant money the task force receives.

"When you look at the busts made in the county, we're getting a good return on our investment," said Warren.

"The task force is working well," added Epperly. "They're taking a lot of (methamphetamine) labs off the street, a lot of drug dealers off the street. It would be tough without them. The drug task force is one of the best tools we have in law enforcement."

In his annual budget message, County Clerk Gary Youngblood reported that the county was anticipating revenue to total $3,037,949 in 2013. With $260,955 carried over from 2012, the county is working with annual appropriations of $3,298,904.

The county is projecting a decrease in revenue in the coming year because of the loss of the out-of-state vehicle and boat use tax combined with declining sales tax revenue. In 2012, the county's half-cent sales tax generated 3.51 percent less than it did in 2011.

Approximately half of the county's revenue is derived from sales tax. In 2012, sales tax revenue totalled $1,662,192. The county does not assess a property tax. In addition to sales tax, the county receives income from intergovernmental revenues, charges for services and other miscellaneous revenue. In 2012, these revenue sources totalled $1,375,777.

To offset declining revenue, the county commission voted on Jan. 17 to place an eighth of a cent sales tax issue on the April 2 ballot.

Warren talked briefly about the ballot proposal during Thursday's budget hearing.

"We looked at the minimum affect we can have on our citizens and still provide the services in Barry County we need to provide," Warren said.

An eighth of a cent sales tax is projected to generate an additional $400,000 a year in revenue.

"We don't like taxes any better than anyone else," said Warren. "We feel like Barry County needs it.

"Whatever decision voters make, we'll give you the best government we can based on the money we have to spend," added Warren.

Paul Bingham, a member of the Barry County Property Rights group, asked Warren how the additional revenue would be allocated if voters approved the sales tax issue.

Warren said the biggest portion of the increased sales tax revenue would go to law enforcement. Approximately $150,000 would go to the sheriff's department to add back the three deputies positions that were cut in 2012. Another $50,000 to $75,000 would be used to purchase new cars for the deputies.

The prosecutor's office would receive a budget boost of $100,000 if the sales tax passes. The additional funding would be used to make the assistant prosecutor's and the investigator's positions full time rather than part time.

According to Warren, money would also be allocated to give all of the county's clerical employees a modest pay increase.

Warren said the additional sales tax would cost $12.50 on annual purchases of $12,000.

"That comes to less than 4 cents a day," said Warren.

Bingham was one of only two citizens who attended the annual budget hearing, which was held at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 24. He was the only one, besides members of the media, who asked questions of the commission.

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