Tax Increase Helps County Complete First-Year Goals

The first year of the half-cent sales tax increase helped the Crawford County commission accomplish the goals laid out to voters nearly two years ago.

So successful was the boost to general revenue income that the commission has already gotten a start on its goals for the second year.

The county has erased its massive $356,000 deficit, balanced the budget, purchased new software deposited money in reserve, and made an investment. 

In October, the commission approved the purchase of a $200,000 certificate of deposit with Bank of Sullivan.

The CD has a 13-month term with a little more than 2 percent interest.

Commissioners have gotten a jump on their second-year goals by instituting a pay ladder, similar to a salary schedule used in school districts.

Budget Shortfall

It was just two years ago that the situation at the courthouse was dismal.

After years of threatening to cut services and personnel, the commission finally had its hand forced.

The commission ran up against a budget that couldn’t be balanced with a few nicks here and there.

Serious cuts were in order.

So after weeks of contentious budget meetings, commissioners were led to a decision that District 1 Commissioner Rob Cummings said kept him awake at night: cutting hours for general revenue employees from 40 to 32.

The decision was announced January 18, 2018. In response, employees and other officials filled the commission room, demanding answers. Honor Evans, who would eventually become the administrator at the health department, said that workers were being forced to “shoulder the burden” of past mistakes. For some employees, it amounted to anywhere from a $4,000 to $6,000 pay cut. 

Cutting hours also would have created a ripple effect for services. Sharon Chilton, then of the prosecuting attorney’s office, asked what she was supposed to tell a victim who came to a closed office.

Presiding Commissioner Leo Sanders said he agreed with their concerns, but he was out of answers.

“What are we supposed to do?” he asked.

The county eventually produced a balanced budget that year, but was still left with a deficit that totaled more than $350,000.

Tax Increase

With the 2018 budget settled, commissioners warned that unless something drastically changed, 2019 would be the year they had to bring about cuts.

On January 17, 2018, they voted to place a general revenue sales tax increase on the April ballot.

Two sales tax increases had failed before Cummings and District 2 Commissioner Jared Boast ever took office.

On the same night Cummings and Boast won their primaries against Paul Watson and Kenny Killeen respectively, county voters made a total rejection of a sales tax increase. It was opposed by nearly 70 percent of voters.

Watson and Killeen were voted out after just one term. While the county’s budget problems started before they had taken office in January 2013, it wasn’t hard to tie the sizable gap in the sales tax vote to their electoral doom. 

Undeterred, the commission, which included Sanders and two commissioners who would be leaving office in less than five months, they went back to voters. 

This time around, the commission tried to built support for the tax increase by holding town halls in each of the county’s three municipalities. 

Attendance was uneven and voters who attended seemed unconvinced. On election night in November 2016, a second sales tax was soundly rejected.

Boast and Cummings entered office in January 2017 with the budget situation as messy as ever. While they were able to produce what seemed to be a balanced budget, the Missouri State Auditor’s Office threw cold water on that several months later.

As Boast said at the time, the auditors sat across from them in the commission room and flatly rejected that. 

With a $350,000 deficit hanging over their heads, the county did not have a balanced budget. 

Hoping to solve the budget deficit once and for all, the commission voted to place a sales tax on the ballot. In exchange, the county would voluntarily roll back personal property and real estate tax levies to zero.

The tax also would sunset on December 31, 2023.

As the county prepares to enter 2020, most of its problems seem to be in the rear-view mirror. 

There are four years left of the tax being in place and by the time 2023 rolls around, there could be three different commissioners. Whether it’s a new group or some combination of the current body, they — and voters — must decide if the county could survive the next decade with its previous sales tax.

Sullivan Independent News

Sullivan Independent News
411 Scottsdale
Sullivan, MO 63080

Phone: 573-468-6511
Fax: 573-468-4046

nuz4u@fidnet.com