County looks at rev­enue pro­jec­tions

Of­fi­cials seek ways to cut $3 mil­lion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - TOM SISSOM

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County’s jus­tices of the peace on Mon­day started look­ing for ways to cut $3 mil­lion from bud­get re­quests for next year, but also agreed to con­sider in­creas­ing ini­tial rev­enue pro­jec­tions.

Tom Allen, jus­tice of the peace for District 4 and com­mit­tee chair­man, said he wants the bud­get to be as tight as pos­si­ble but to ac­cu­rately re­flect the money the county takes in.

“If you know you’re go­ing to get some money, it’s part of good money man­age­ment to use that wisely,” Allen said.

Brenda Guen­ther, comp­trol­ler, said her most re­cent es­ti­mate shows the prop­erty tax rev­enue grow­ing by about 7 per­cent next year while the bud­get is based on pro­jec­tions for 4 per­cent growth. Guen­ther also said the sales tax rev­enue for 2018 is pro­jected to be $8.75 mil­lion, the sames as was bud­geted in 2017 even though the county ex­pects to take in about $8.9 mil­lion this year. Allen said both rev­enue es­ti­mates should be in­creased.

“I think we should start there be­fore we start cut­ting,” Allen said.

Joel Ed­wards, jus­tice of the peace for District 15, cau­tioned the county could have to change the way it has op­er­ated in years past, when ad­di­tional rev­enue al­lowed ad­just­ments to the bud­get.

“If we get too ag­gres­sive on rev­enue now we lose the lux­ury of mid-year ad­just­ments,” Ed­wards said. “We get a sur­plus be­cause we’re un­der­stat­ing.”

Mike McKen­zie, jus­tice of the peace for District 1, agreed with Allen.

“I’m not a fan of midyear changes,” McKen­zie said. “I think it’s more ap­pro­pri­ate to hit it as close as we can and bud­get for that.”

The jus­tices of the peace also went through re­quests for per­son­nel and cap­i­tal equip­ment, with Allen pro­vid­ing a list of pos­si­ble cuts as a start­ing point. The county has about $3.35 mil­lion more in pro­jected rev­enue than it does in op­er­at­ing costs for 2018, ac­cord­ing to Guen­ther. Elected of­fi­cials and de­part­ment heads also sub­mit­ted re­quests for em­ployee raises, new per­son­nel and equip­ment tak­ing the bud­get from that $3.35 mil­lion sur­plus to a deficit of about $3 mil­lion if fully funded.

With the cuts dis­cussed Mon­day the deficit was cut to about $1.4 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Joel Jones, jus­tice of the peace. Jones es­ti­mate didn’t in­clude the pos­si­ble in­creases in rev­enue or the shift of about $500,000 for vot­ing equip­ment from the 2018 bud­get to 2019. Guen­ther said if the county fi­nances buy­ing the vot­ing ma­chines af­ter the first of next year no pay­ment would be due be­fore 2019.

The com­mit­tee was also briefed on money the county has been spend­ing on agen­cies fo­cused on is­sues rang­ing from an­i­mal con­trol to wa­ter qual­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials, Ben­ton County’s 2017 bud­get in­cluded $185,000 for the Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice; $45,000 for the Hu­mane So­ci­ety for An­i­mals; $34,000 for the Wash­ing­ton County HIV Clinic; $24,000 for Ozark Re­gional Tran­sit; $20,000 for the Illi­nois River Wa­ter­shed Part­ner­ship; and $5,000 for the Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice.

The com­mit­tee agreed to ask the en­ti­ties seek­ing

money to pro­vide them with more in­for­ma­tion about their needs.

The jus­tices of the peace also dis­cussed the pro­posed courts build­ing, with Pat Adams, jus­tices of the peace for District 6, press­ing for a one-year, 1 per­cent sales tax to pay for the $20 mil­lion to $25 mil­lion project. Pay­ing for the project by a bond is­sue re­paid by us­ing court fines fees and for­fei­tures was also men­tioned. Guen­ther said those sources pro­vide the county about $1.1 mil­lion a year. Allen said the an­nual debt ser­vice on a bond is­sue for the project could be about from $1 mil­lion to $1.5 mil­lion.

Adams said he doesn’t want to see the county take on the long-term debt needed to pay for the project through a bond is­sue.

“With the 1 per­cent sales tax it’s paid for in one year,” Adams said. “We don’t want to un­der­es­ti­mate the ci­ti­zens of Ben­ton County. With the one-and-done it’s a one-year project.”

County Judge Barry Moehring said get­ting voter ap­proval is re­quired for a sales tax and he sees ob­sta­cles. Moehring said another 1 per­cent

sales tax would push the to­tal sales tax in many ci­ties above 10 per­cent and Arkansas al­ready has the fourth-high­est sales tax rate in the coun­try.

Allen said the chance for vot­ers re­ject­ing a sales tax in­crease has to be con­sid­ered.

“What if it doesn’t pass?

What do we do then?” Allen asked.

The com­mit­tee made no de­ci­sions Mon­day and will re­sume their work Thurs­day.

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