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Sales tax figures topic of budget commission

The Lawrence County Commissioners will get the chance to make their argument on why there should be more money in the emergency services section of the county’s general fund.

That opportunity was approved by the budget commission at its February meeting on Tuesday. The commission, made up of the county auditor, county treasurer and county prosecuting attorney, must certify all revenue coming into the county before the commissioners can spend it.

The county receives 1.5 percent in sales tax with 1 percent going to the main section of the general fund and .5 percent to the emergency services section. In December the budget commission certified $4,930,000 in sales tax for the general fund but $2,350,000 in sales tax for the emergency services section, or $115,000 less than one-half of the general fund certification. The emergency services section gets its revenue exclusively from the .5 sales tax.

Since that certification Commission President Les Boggs has pushed to get the emergency services certification increased saying it should be one-half of the amount certified for the general fund. The commission president has eyed that money to help the county’s EMS, especially after a recent purchase of five ambulances.

Recently, Boggs formally wrote every member of the budget commission asking for a change in the certification. At its Tuesday meeting County Treasurer Stephen Burcham brought up Boggs’ request.

“His argument has some validity,” Burcham said.

County Auditor Jason Stephens has maintained that the under-certification is necessary to have sufficient carryover to cover January 2015 bills, which include three pay periods.

“Did we over estimate the 1 percent,” Stephens countered.

As of Tuesday the county has $287, 497.81 in unpaid bills with cash on hand at $197,167.27. The first obligation for the county is payroll, which is approximately $180,000 every two weeks for employees minus those in emergency services and the offices of treasurer, auditor, engineer and recorder.

The county started the year with $1,147,690 in all three parts of the general fund. If revenue for 2015 is flat, the carryover is projected to be at $1,326,218.

“If you certify more, which you can do, next January we will not make all payroll,” Chris Kline, chief deputy auditor, told the commission. “That is why we did it.”

Of the $2,350,000 certified in the emergency fund, there is currently $19,364 left to appropriated.

“What ever we certify, history shows it will be appropriated and spent,” Stephens said.

With the extreme weather in January, Stephens is concerned that sales tax revenue will be down, which will impact revenue for this year.

“January was so cold, businesses were closed and schools were out,” Stephens said. “The ultimate goal of the county is to operate smoothly, without being in crisis mode.”

Burcham suggested the budget commission invite the commissioners to its May meeting after the Christmas sales tax, first half property tax and two of the four allotments from the casino revenue are in. Sales tax comes in three months behind its payment at the cash register. So far the county has received 188,478.71 from the casino revenue that is paid quarterly according to how much is received by the state.

That meeting with the commissioners is set for May 13.

“I would be happy to attend the meeting and give our arguments,” Boggs said. “We need to have this money to help our emergency services like the sheriff’s department and the EMS.”