Livingston County’s spending plan for 2017 is “very, very tight” and the county plans to end the year with ending balances less than it did in 2016.

Livingston County’s spending plan for 2017 is “very, very tight” and the county plans to end the year with ending balances less than it did in 2016. The county commission – comprised of Presiding Commissioner Ed Douglas and newly-elected associate commissioners Alvin Thompson and Dave Mapel – unanimously approved the budget following a public hearing Tuesday morning. The county’s fiscal year began Jan. 1. The overall 2017 ending balance of the county’s approximate 30 funds, is projected to be $412,000, compared to last year’s ending balance of $739,000. “The budget is very, very tight,” Douglas stated. He noted a couple big-ticket items is this year’s budget are two bridge projects included in the county’s road and bridge fund that will be fully funded by the county for an estimated cost of $300,000. The bridges are located near Chula. Although two are included in the 2017 budget, it’s possible that only one will be completed this year. The bridges will be funded by the county and designated as “soft-match” funds that can be used to leverage federal funds for future bridge projects. The county’s bridge projects often are paid for with 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent local money. The local 20 percent, also known as soft-match, can come from projects that were completed solely with county funds. “This will be a year we build up a soft match,” Douglas said. Each county bridge is estimated to cost $150,000. One bridge included in this year’s budget is on Third Street, west of  Chillicothe. This will be a BRO bridge that will be paid for with 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent local soft-match funds. Douglas commended those involved with the county’s budget development. “The county clerk did a great job and the elected officials did a good job of knowing our restraints and keeping requests slim,” he said. “The new commissioners jumped in and rolled up their sleeves and made good suggestions.” The projected low 2017 ending balance underscores the county’s need for passage of a half-cent sales tax on the April ballot, Douglas said. “The timing for a sales tax increase is very important,” he said. “Things are tight.” The costs for housing prisoners has been a big issue, Douglas said. The county houses its inmates at the Daviess DeKalb Regional Jail. Although the commissioners continue to research the possibility of building a Livingston County Jail, at this time, the cost is “well beyond the affordability of Livingston County,” according to Livingston County Clerk Sherry Parks. The county had budgeted for an average daily prisoner count of 43 inmates. The actual average was down from that number; however, the census was starting to increase toward the end of the year. For 2017, the county is budgeting for an average census of 38 prisoners per day. The cost per inmate increased from $30 per day in February 2016 to $34 per day. At the end of 2017, the rate is expected to increase to $40 per day. The county clerk stated that the county continues to operate a centralized dispatch center through a partnership with the city of Chillicothe. However, due to declining revenues collected through 911 fees, which is primarily due to the increased popularity of VOIP phone lines and cell phone usage, 911 services are being supplemented with funds that should be used in other areas of service to the county citizens, Parks stated. “With Missouri being the only state in the nation that does not have a 911 fee on cell phones, local government will continue to struggle to support this service until major changes in funding are instituted,” Parks said. The clerk stated that the 2017 budget includes federal and state grant funds for numerous services, including a supplement to the deputy sheriff’s salary, maintenance of voter registration equipment and new equipment for the sheriff’s department. The county’s general sales tax collections for 2016 were down by approximately 1.6 percent from the previous year which will result in a minimal property levy assessed to the taxpayers for the 2017 tax year, Parks said. The county has budgeted $25,000 less in sales tax than what was budgeted the previous year, according to Douglas. The 2017 budget reflects a 2 percent cost of living increase for full-time employees. Douglas noted that the starting salary for employees is $9.65 per hour and that employees work 35 hours per week. The county continues to fund the LAGERS pension plan, half of the CERF pension plan and the Prosecuting Attorney Retirement plan. The commissioners also chose to continue to fund a bridge insurance plan for all full-time employees and elected officials. This plan was implemented when the county insurance premium increased and the commissioners saw this as a way to offset out-of-pocket expenses for employees. Livingston County offers health insurance to all full-time employees and elected officials through Blue Cross Blue Shield, with the county funding the majority of the premium. In her budget message to the commissioners, Parks stated that the elected officials and employees work diligently to provide quality services to the citizens of Livingston County.