Archived Story

How much to spend?

Published 9:48am Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Budget commission debates certification


Determining how much to hold back for a rainy day remains the question for the Lawrence County Budget Commission as it continues to debate the percentage of estimated revenue to make available to the county commissioners in 2014.

Except in the case of the county, rainy days translate as much into making payroll and paying utilities for the first months of the year before taxes come in as it does for unexpected emergencies.

The budget commission on Tuesday met to consider certifying revenue for 2014 as the Lawrence County Commissioners get ready to draw up a budget for next year. After about a half-hour of debate, the commission, made up of the County Auditor, County Treasurer and County Prosecutor, voted to table certification until they could meet with the commissioners.

“I want to see what (officeholders) have submitted budgets to the commission to give me a better picture of the projection,” County Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson said. “I don’t care to come back in to work on it. We need to have an idea of where the commission is going.”

Before the commissioners can allocate funds to the officeholders for them to spend, that money must be certified by the budget commission. The two largest streams of revenue to the county come from real estate taxes and sales tax. In 2013 $2.2 million was originally certified. Real estate actually brought in $2,385,049.

Sales tax was estimated to come in at $5,330,000. Of that $5 million was certified originally. So far $4,533,941 has come in.

Right now the auditor’s office estimates total revenue into the general fund for 2014 to be at $10,620,000 or $22,359 less than what was estimated to come in this year. As of Monday the county has received $9,337,949.

The budget commission can certify all revenue expected to come into the county for next year. But if it does that, it eliminates carryover that can be used to cover expenses for the first two or three months.

“The more carryover we get closer to $2 million the more we have to smoothly operate the county,” County Auditor Jason Stephens said. “If we certify 99 percent, you know it will be appropriated.”

While sales tax comes in monthly, real estate taxes are collected twice a year, first in March and then in July. That means real estate revenue cannot cover payroll and bills for at least the first two months of each year.

“And sales tax, it is such a fluctuating number, month to month,” Stephens said. “I would much rather certify 90 percent as opposed to 98 to 100 percent.”

Last year the budget commission originally certified $9.7 million of the revenue estimated to come in at $10,642,359. However, throughout the year the commission increased that certification to $9,965,373.

Since the certification was eventually increased, County Treasurer Stephen Burcham argued the first certification should not be so low, but rather make it higher and inform officeholders there would not be another certification.

“There is a lot of grief at the beginning of each year,” Burcham said. “We do a certification and cause the commission to do a budget that is less. Let’s certify a number that is what was spent.”

Should unforeseen expenses occur, the commission could take out a general obligation note, the treasurer said.

“I don’t see why certify less and then continually adjust it up and down,” Burcham said. “I would much rather get our hand around a number where we know we will be. Send a letter to the officeholders that this is all we will certify. I would much rather have a firm number at the beginning of the year.”

That would eliminate officeholders coming back to the commissioners throughout the year asking for more money, he said.

“Where is that firm number? ” Stephens asked. “That is why the budget commission is such an important vehicle of the county.”

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