To Sell Tax Increase, Commission Outlines Future Budget Needs

With less than two months until the April 3 election, county officials on Tuesday discussed how they plan to utilize a proposed sales tax increase that comes with a rollback of personal property and real estate taxes.

The sales tax would affect only the general revenue. Taxpayers would still pay personal property and real estate taxes, but their portion to the county will be rolled back until 2024, if the proposal passes. It would sunset Dec. 31, 2023.

County officials are hoping to learn from mistakes made in 2016, when two sales tax increase proposals were defeated.

Commissioners put together a list Tuesday to be shared with a committee of private citizens who are pushing for the April ballot proposal.

The list outlines what the county intends to do with the increase each of the five years.

The increase is one-half of one percent and with the rollback of personal property and real estate, would net the county an additional $700,000 per year, according to County Clerk John Martin.

At the top of the list is getting the county permanently out of debt, said Martin.

“That deficit needs taken care of,” he said of the $357,663.14 negative balance in general revenue. This is down from a negative balance of more than $486,000 at the end of 2016. “The yearly budget needs to be stabilized. We shouldn’t have to move money around from fund to fund.”

Martin also emphasized purchasing new accounting software and building up the reserve fund to around $1.1 million, which covers a typical year of general revenue sales tax. Martin said having a reserve equal to revenue collection is advised by the state auditor’s office.

The rough outline as of Tuesday looked like:

-Paying off the debt;

-Balancing future budgets, which increase due to insurance costs, trial costs and other expenses (“the cost of doing business” as Martin says);

-Fully funding general revenue offices;

-Purchasing new accounting software;

-Replenishing the sheriff’s department; and

-Building the reserve

The commission discussed cost-of-living raises for employees in 2021, since employees have not had raises for several years.

“We’ve got to be responsible,” said Presiding Commissioner Leo Sanders.

Sheriff’s Department

Crawford County Sheriff Darin Layman said recruiting and retaining officers must be addressed. Layman’s department has been bleeding officers to neighboring areas where they receive higher-paying jobs. Layman said the county cannot compete with the wages being offered elsewhere.

“You’re also losing trained, seasoned employees,” said Sanders, who empathized with Layman’s struggles.

Software

Officials seemed to agree the accounting software must be replaced with a system more suitable for governmental accounting. QuickBooks is currently used and some officials have complained how it’s not functional enough to serve the county’s needs.

If the county receives a sales tax increase, Martin said they will look into Encode. The contract would run for seven years at an estimated cost of $14,700. The county may also have to look into breaking its contract with DEVNET, which is used in the collector’s office.

Coroner’s Office

Coroner Paul Hutson does not plan to run for office again in 2020. Hutson does not charge the county for some of the services his funeral home provides, including storage and a cooler. Hutson’s expenses are just $70,000 and a little more than one-third goes towards autopsies.

The county must prepare for life after Hutson. Unless another funeral director steps forward and decides not to charge the county, Crawford County must make arrangements with another funeral home or begin building space for the future coroner.

Martin estimated the coroner budget could increase up to $150,000.

Sullivan Independent News

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