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Downturn in economy affects county budget

A slight drop in sales tax revenues and increasing expenses has left the County Commission with a budget for 2008 that has little play.

Sales tax revenues are projected at $3,175,000 for 2008, while 2007 has been estimated at $3,177,198.

Henson believes there will be at least two or three more years of the same trend. He said TIF Districts have depressed the revenue some, and the downturn in the economy has not helped either.

“People just don’t have money to spend,” he said. “It’s four dollars for a gallon of milk, three for a gallon of gas, two for a loaf of bread … It’s getting sticky for everyone. It affects everyone.”

Overall revenues went up slightly, but some of that was reflected in new tax revenue streams that weren’t listed in the previous year’s proposed budget, such as the senior citizen’s service fund.

Expenses were up 3.7 percent over 2007 projections, going from $13,563,377 to $14,055,342. That total reflects revenue taken in for other entities such as school districts, water districts, courts. About $8 million is pass-through money, according to county officials.

The balance is projected to drop by 30 percent, from $1,623,040 to $1,132,236.

Henson said the county’s budget could have been worse, pointing to other counties such as Jefferson, which he said had a bigger financial crunch.

Despite the belt tightening they’ve had to do, the courthouse renovation will be completed, and the county was able to give employees a raise this year. Last year there were no raises.

“We were able to give an $80 a month across the board raise,” Henson said. “But to do that, we talked to offices that have service fee funds and they were able to turn over some extra money to help pay for the raises. The employees have to have some type of increase with the increase in gas to keep moving.”

They have also been stockpiling rock, salt and that type of thing in anticipation of increasing expenses. “Hopefully, we won’t need to use it,” Henson said. “It doesn’t waste, it’ll be there next year.”

There are no building projects in mind.

“It’s doubtful, unless we actually sell road and bridge,” Henson said. “Then we would be trading dollars to move them over to the other area.”

The county was planning to build a new maintenance shed on land near the St. Francois County Jail, which would have centralized their operations and cut some maintenance expenses, county officials say. However, without selling the existing maintenance shed, they cannot afford to move.

Office holders were asked to cut expenses across the board and equipment costs were held back, Henson said, to balance the budget.

“Office equipment and things we’d normally buy, we’re going to do a lot more repair work, where it’s feasible and cost effective. We’re doing without new equipment and we’ve cut way down,” Henson said. “I’ve talked with all the office holders. They know it’s crunch time.”

Henson said he line-itemed each budget to cut out some expenses.

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