• 39°

Commission eyes sales tax funding

Commissioners created a new fund last week to hold Lawrence County’s extra 1/2 percent sales tax revenue.

Thursday, November 04, 1999

Commissioners created a new fund last week to hold Lawrence County’s extra 1/2 percent sales tax revenue.

The sales tax had been separate within the accounts of the county general fund, but a better tracking system was needed, deputy county auditor Chris Kline said.

Although it remained apart from other general fund revenues, it was counted within that fund’s total balance, he said.

Now, auditors can look directly at the sales tax revenue and commissioners can protect it better, commission president Bruce Trent said.

"We have to protect this revenue so the county does not have to go back to the people," Trent said.

Keeping the cash completely separate means it will be spent only for its intended uses – funding 911, EMS and EMA services, he said.

The county began collecting the extra tax in June 1997 as a move to relieve the funding pressure of 911 and other emergency services, Trent said.

Those agencies bring in no revenue of their own and their budgets had begun to outpace the general fund revenues allotted, he said.

"We have had so many good comments that we took the burden off the property owner and created a more equitably-based funding," Trent said.

Extra sales tax money received January through October this year came from November 1998 to August collections, totaling $1,624,758, according to auditor’s records.

That amount is close enough to the $1.8 million expected revenue that auditors predict the fund will reach the mark, Kline said.

Trent said that the fund’s performance might even turn out better than what the commission expected because of a strong economy.

With the county’s current budget extending about $1.26 million to 911 and EMS, and a small amount to EMA, there should be a carryover balance, too, he said.

So far, the fund has allowed 911 to operate without a financial crunch on the county general fund and has set the stage for new ambulance stations in Chesapeake and Ironton, he added.

"We’re right in the middle of building a new station that has gone over the estimated cost," Trent said.

Besides funding the county’s cost of EMS, the sales tax also could keep the county from having to borrow money to get the new station built, he said.

"And right now, there are a number of people pro and con for levies," Trent said. "Having been able to remove two 1-mill EMS levies, in favor of the extra sales tax, maybe makes them (new levies by other government agencies) more palatable."

The extra sales tax revenue, however, was not considered for funding such county projects as a new jail, he said.

Changing the tax’s use now, or in the future, likely would not go over well with county leaders or voters, Trent said.

But because the county relies upon the tax to take care of 911 and EMS budgets, construction funding could open up elsewhere in county coffers, he said.