Chillicothe C-T, Catherine Stortz-Ripley - With two new office-holders officially on board, the three-member Livingston County Commission has begun formulating the county's 2017 fiscal budget. The budget must be approved before the end of January. The 2017 budget is Presiding Commissioner Ed Douglas' third county budget with which he has been involved. Douglas was elected in 2014 following in the footsteps of Eva Danner Horton. Joining him for this year's budget process are newly elected East District Commissioner Alvin Thompson and West District Commissioner David Mapel. Both were sworn into office December 29. Thompson succeeded Ken Lauhoff, who held the position since 1996, and Mapel follows Todd Rodenberg, who served the west district eight years.
During their first week in office, the commission reviewed the budget process in meetings led by County Clerk Sherry Parks, who also serves as the county's budget officer. She explained the county's various accounts, funds and expenses. The commissioners plan to start meeting with the county's elected officials this week and review their proposed budgets. They also will meet with various entities regarding annual contracts. This week, they will meet with Micah Landes of Main Street Chillicothe, Shawn Hurtgen of the YMCA, and Jessica Trussell of the University of Missouri Extension. In looking toward the new budget year, Douglas stated that he is optimistic but noted that it could be challenging. "I know it will be tight," he said, adding that the county's starting balance will be slightly below last year's starting balance. He said that the balance which is moved from year to year is not significant enough to be considered a reserve. "It's not a real reserve," he said. Reserves of $2 million to $3 million are not uncommon for counties surrounding Livingston, Douglas added.
A half-cent sales tax, which will be presented to voters in April, could change those figures. Such a tax, if approved, is estimated to generate $1,050,000 annually. The sales tax proposal is being supported by the current commissioners as well as past commissioners. "They understand why we need it," Douglas said. "We don't have the reserves like other counties do." Without the tax, Douglas stated, "we think that long-term we are in real trouble."
The commission plans to vote on the ballot language in mid-January. If approved in April, the county could start collecting that tax money later this year. Douglas noted that factors that will be part of this year's budget process, compared to last year's budget, is that the inmate population was down last year compared to the previous year and that the county won't have as much election expense this year as it did last year.
Part of the budget process involves estimating county sales tax revenues. Clerk Parks stated that the county traditionally budgets 3 percent less in sales tax revenues than what was actually collected the previous year. "We budget conservatively," Parks stated. The county budgeted sales tax revenues at $1,043,000 in 2016, which was 3 percent less than what was collected in 2015. Although the actual sales tax receipts were higher than projected (coming in at $1,058,000), it was actually less than the $1,075,000 that was collected in 2015.
In reviewing 2016's budget, Parks stated that approximately 10 percent ($262,000) of the general revenue fund was not spent. Having a balance at the end of the year is common, the budget officer stated, noting that the officials hope not to spend all that is budgeted. "We have to budget in January for anything we see could be an expense during the year," Parks said, adding that the county is limited on the reasons its budget can be amended and that amendments can be made only if there is new revenue.
The county's elected officials have submitted their budgets to the county clerk; and beginning this week, the commissioners will start meeting with the elected officials to review the specific department budgets.