Despite the continued economic downturn, county tax revenue is gaining slightly in Callaway County, and it may be possible to grant some county employee salary increases, Western District Commissioner Doc Kritzer said Tuesday.
Kritzer noted that no county government salary increases were granted last year.
"Our employees are extremely valuable and it is vital that we retain their services," Kritzer said. "We are thinking in terms of a goal of 2 percent to 3 percent salary hike if at all possible."
Kritzer said much work remains to be done on the budget before it is completed.
"Fortunately, we have until the end of January this year to complete the budget. Since this was an election year, first class counties like Callaway County have an extra month to complete the budget. This is designed to allow newly elected commissioners to have a chance to participate in the budget," Kritzer said.
Kritzer said newly elected Republican Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann has been participating in preliminary budget discussions and will be deeply involved next month after taking office. Jungermann replaces outgoing Democratic Presiding Commissioner Lee Fritz, who had served in the office for the last 16 years.
Kritzer said general revenue budget requests from all county offices totals $7,151,692, and the county has anticipated revenue of $6,712,357, a difference of $439,335.
"Our goal is to trim this down to a balanced budget," Kritzer said. "This budget looks manageable this year."
Kritzer said even though sales tax collections normally have a healthy increase, the economic downturn is still affecting collections. It is estimated that there will be about $13,000 more in 2010 than 2009.
"That's at least a positive number," Kritzer said.
He noted that some counties like Boone County are in much worse financial shape than Callaway County-especially in sales tax collections.
Callaway County real estate and personal property taxes also are up for the current year. Last year the total was $1,993,754, and the amount estimated to be collected this year is $2,143,933.
"That's about $150,000 more than the previous year, but it assumes 100 percent collections. We usually average about 95 percent collections," Kritzer said.
Kritzer said the county is expected to save about $100,000 in health insurance costs by bringing benefits more into line with industry standards. The county now pays 100 percent of the health insurance premium for each county employee. Kritzer said the deductible for each employee is $500 and the copay is now 90-10 percent. He said the county is thinking about changing the deductible to $1,000 and the copay to 80-20 percent.
"There would be no rate increase to the employees. The proposed change is designed to even out the costs for those who use a lot of insurance compared to those who don't," Kritzer said.
Kritzer said this move also would make it more important to increase salaries if the budget allows.
Every year the commission tries to balance the budget with conservative estimates of income and put aside some for reserves.
In 2006, the reserves sank to only $400,000. But as of last Nov. 30, the county's reserve fund for emergencies is $3.6 million.
Kritzer said the commission has always wanted to avoid using the reserves for recurring expenses that can escalate the budget for next year. He said the reserves can be prudently used for one-time expenses that to not recur the next year. For example, last year the commission spent $250,000 to replace the roof on the jail. He said a console at the jail needs to be replaced and that is estimated to cost from $200,000-$250,000.
Kritzer said paving of county roads also has been postponed in recent years and needs to be resumed.
"We need to convert some gravel roads to blacktop if possible," Kritzer said.
Although local revenue sources such as real estate and sales tax collections are remaining stable or growing slightly, income from state sources has been declining.
For example, the county assessor receives state aid of $6 a parcel of land for assessing property for the state. That has been reduced by the state to $4 a parcel, causing about $50,000 less income for the county assessor's office.
"There is concern that the state may want to cut this down to $3 a parcel next year," Kritzer said.
The state also has reduced the amount it pays the Sheriff's Department to house state prisoners in Callaway County jail. The state had been paying the Sheriff's Department $22.50 a day for each state prisoner held in the county jail but now pays only $19.58 a day.
"We have a lot of fixed costs in county government," Kritzer said. "When this sort of thing happens, we have to make up the difference from our county general revenue fund."