Ben­ton County of­fi­cials want leaner bud­get

Westside Eagle-Observer - - NEWS - By Tom Sis­som tsis­

BENTONVILLE — Ben­ton County of­fi­cials hope the 2018 bud­get can cover day-to-day op­er­a­tions and still pro­vide money for a pro­posed new courts build­ing.

County Judge Barry Moehring said 2018 will be the first year he will de­velop the an­nual bud­get from scratch. Moehring was still a jus­tice of the peace un­til tak­ing of­fice in Jan­uary but said he was not in­volved in cre­at­ing the 2017 bud­get for the county judge’s of­fice. Moehring wants to start the bud­get­ing process with the goal of hold­ing down costs as much as pos­si­ble.

“I would say I want us to have a re­ally ac­cu­rate rev­enue pic­ture and to see how lit­tle we can spend to ac­com­plish our goals, not how much,” Moehring said. “The ob­jec­tive is we want to re­turn money to the re­serve fund to help fi­nance the courts fa­cil­ity.”

Brenda Guen­ther, comptroller, set a sched­ule for elected of­fi­cials and depart­ment heads to sub­mit their draft bud­gets by Fri­day. The Quo­rum Court agreed ear­lier to ask for a bud­get with no in­crease in op­er­at­ing costs and with per­son­nel and cap­i­tal equip­ment re­quests to be kept sep­a­rate. A pre­lim­i­nary bud­get is set for com­ple­tion by Sept. 22. The Per­son­nel Com­mit­tee is set to meet at 6 p.m. Sept. 26 to re­view per­son­nel re­quests.

Guen­ther said rev­enue es­ti­mates for 2018 are in­com­plete, but she ex­pects rev­enue will be higher next year.

“We’re trend­ing up­ward at about 5 per­cent over last year,” she said.

The county’s gen­eral fund prop­erty tax rev­enue grew by 3.39 per­cent from 2014 to 2015, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion from Guen­ther. From 2015 to 2016 the county’s gen­eral fund rev­enue from prop­erty taxes grew by 1.95 per­cent. In 2016 the gen­eral fund prop­erty tax brought in about $25.6 mil­lion. The county’s road fund prop­erty tax brought in an­other $3.3 mil­lion in 2016. The county’s sales tax rev­enue grew by 8.72 per­cent from 2014 to 2015 and by 2.43 per­cent from 2015 to 2016. The sales tax brought in about $8.3 mil­lion in 2016.

Tom Allen is jus­tice of the peace and chair­man of the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, which also acts as the Bud­get Com­mit­tee. Allen would like to see the county pay for the new courts build­ing out of ex­ist­ing rev­enue, but not at the cost of cut­ting ser­vices or los­ing good em­ploy­ees.

“We’re go­ing to get more in prop­erty taxes be­cause of the reap­praisal last year,” Allen said. “We al­ready know we’re get­ting more money in sales tax. I think we should try to stay flat on spend­ing this year and next and see if we can ded­i­cate some rev­enue to­ward the new courts build­ing. I’m of the opin­ion we’re go­ing to try not to sac­ri­fice on per­son­nel. There will be cap­i­tal re­quests also, but we’ve got to have a bal­ance.”

Pat Adams, jus­tice of the peace, doubts the county can pay for a $20 mil­lion to $30 mil­lion courts build­ing with­out some kind of in­crease in taxes or fees. Adams fa­vors a 1 per­cent sales tax in­crease, with a one-year sun­set pro­vi­sion, since a por­tion of the sales tax will be borne by tourists.

“There’s not enough money in Ben­ton County’s re­serves to pay for this build­ing,” Adams said. “If we try to take it out of our nor­mal bud­get, we’ll have to cut ser­vices some­where and I’m not in fa­vor of that.”

Michelle Chiocco, jus­tice of the peace, wants to see if the bud­get can be tight­ened enough to pay for the courts build­ing with­out cut­ting per­son­nel or ser­vices. She said she doesn’t want to put un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions on county of­fi­cials and depart­ment heads.

“I want to see it tight­ened up a lit­tle bit, but I don’t want to see us come back at mid-year and say we were to­tally wrong and we can’t do it,” she said. “It’s a Catch-22 no mat­ter which way you do it.”

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