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Budget hearings to be held this week

Monday, January 18, 2010

By LISA SCHLICHTMAN

With sales tax revenue down by almost 9 percent in 2009, Barry County commissioners are continuing down a conservative path as they look ahead to their 2010 budget.

Barry County officeholders have submitted their budget requests, and on Thursday, Jan. 21 at 10 a.m., the Barry County Commission will host the 2010 budget hearing where the county's spending plan for the coming year will be discussed.

Budget requests for 2010 total $3,740,216, which is $72,639 less than 2009's $3,812,855 budget but $299,554 more than the $3,440,662 actually spent last year. A detailed breakdown of budget requests by office and department is highlighted in the budget chart that accompanies this article.

Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren describes the 2010 as "bare bones." This year's budget again does not include pay raises for employees.

"The really tough part for us is that our employees have not had a pay increase in three years," said Warren. "We did pick up an increase in their insurance. If we hadn't, they would have taken a cut in pay.

"It's difficult, but the officeholders and the employees have been very cooperative and understanding of the county's situation," added Warren.

On a bright note, Warren said the county's obligation with Walmart will be over this year, which will free up some revenue. The 2010 budget includes $30,000 for the Cassville Supercenter Project, which marks the county's last payment.

The $75,000 earmarked for capital projects in the budget represents the county's payment on the jail expansion project that was completed in 2009.

"Under the circumstances, I'm pretty satisfied," said Warren. "We're not the only ones hurting and we know that."

In 2010, the county is projecting that sales tax revenue will be flat with last year. In 2009, the county predicted sales tax revenue would decrease by 3 percent and it actually dropped by 8.6 percent.

"We have to absorb that this year," explained Warren. "We're hopeful that we'll stay level (in 2010)."

The Jan. 21 budget hearing will be held in the court room at the historic Barry County Courthouse in Cassville. The hearing is open to the public.

Smaller budget is anticipated in Lawrence County

By MURRAY BISHOFF

The 2010 budget for Lawrence County anticipates less spending in the coming year. The county ended 2009 with a positive balance, though a deficit is anticipated for the year ahead.

County officials are proposing a $4,338,388 spending plan in 2010, about $30,000 more than was budgeted in 2009.

Spending for the public safety departments, including the sheriff and jail, is projected at $1,709,757, nearly $190,000 less than last year. The general county budget anticipates spending of $1,490,233 in 2010, almost $175,000 more than was actually spent in 2009.

County Clerk Gary Emerson said after a year of tight finances, officeholders were heading cautiously into the new year.

"Most offices try to be thrifty in the way their offices are managed and consistently come in under budget each year." Emerson said. "The practice has been for an office not to be penalized for spending less than budgeted. In some organizations if you don't spend it, you lose it for the next year but that has not been the practice here or the mindset of most officeholders. "Specifically, the county commission is estimating $25,000 in legal fees in 2010," Emerson said. "In a busy election year I will spend most of my office expense line. Buildings and grounds will be doing some repairs to the patrol office. Health insurance went up some in benefits."

The biggest boost in spending proposed for 2010 is nearly $50,000 more going into emergency management. Emerson said a larger than usual grant will help set up an emergency operations center in the Justice Center.

Emerson said commissioners amended the budget in August, September and November to carefully track expenditures. Many decisions contributed to the below-budget spending total for 2009:

* Commissioners decided not to spend around $24,000 budgeted for new equipment in a number of offices.

* Money was budgeted for five possible elections last year but only two were held, saving nearly $50,000.

* The clerk and collector's offices closed their year around $5,000 under budget in each office by not spending all the office expense money.

* Buildings and grounds saved around $15,000 when supplies and utilities came in below budget. Some bills for upkeep were spent from the capital projects fund, Emerson said.

"We were making a conscious effort to save money," Emerson said.

Revenues for 2010 are projected to increase by 1.5 percent in the preliminary budget. Emerson said that amount may be revised after January sales tax income came in at 2005 levels, 16 percent below last January. Without making changes, the 2010 budget is calling for a deficit of nearly $181,000.

Details about the budget will be explained in the public hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 20 in the basement conference room of the historic courthouse in Mt. Vernon.



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