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Commission Communications: 2021 Livingston County Budget

By Ed Douglas

This is my seventh year as presiding commissioner and I can say with confidence that I feel better about our budget than in any prior year. When I first came into office, I recognized almost immediately that our county was severely underfunded. We had basically no reserves and were unable to fund what needed to be done in the county. Our commission (the previous commission and the current commission) worked together for a couple of years to explain to the public our needs and we were able to pass a much-needed sales tax increase in 2017.

Now nearly four years later, and after passing the sales tax increase, we have accomplished a great deal with this funding. We were able to complete a much needed $1 million dollar remolding of the County Courthouse, which included a new roof, new windows and doors (many that were original windows over 100 years old), tuckpointing and a complete power washing and cleaning of the outside of the courthouse, as well as some needed electrical work inside the courthouse. With this new funding, and by a vote of the people (with no additional tax increase), we were able to expand the service of our prosecutor from part-time to full-time which was much needed by a county our size.

We were also able to increase funding to improve county roads by an innovative program that increased funding to our townships by a total of $200,000 per year (an increase in funding of 65%). Additionally, we have been able to add people and resources to our sheriff’s department (additional officers and needed equipment) to maintain strong law enforcement in our county. Most importantly, we have been able to gradually raise the compensation of our hired courthouse staff, road and bridge crew, and law enforcement staff, which makes the county more competitive in these positions with other similar employers. This is important because it allows us to keep good people and hire quality staff when necessary.

Finally, we have gone from having no reserves prior to 2017 to approximately 20% of our 2021 budget in reserves (nearly $2,000,000). Having a meaningful reserve fund like this is extremely important as was made evident this past year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states, counties and cities across the nation had significant drops in revenue. When something like that happens without reserves, a county could be in the position of shutting down services and laying-off staff. By building a reserve, we are now in a position that a scenario like this is unlikely.

It should be noted that unlike other city, county and state governments that had significant decreases in revenue, our county sales tax actually increased rather significantly in 2020 -- by about 6%. I believe there were several reasons for this: 1) other than the mandatory shutdown required by the Governor in March and April, we did not shutdown the business community like many other counties and states did; 2) we distributed rather quickly the $1,786,000 of CARES Act funds that came into the county. Some of these funds were sent to businesses that were effectively shut down in the Spring ($800,000 approximately), to our county schools, ($240,000), and additional funds for health care needs that included testing, masks, nursing homes, and other health needs; 3) finally, because of the pandemic I believe some of the shopping that might normally have gone out of town stayed local which was also a significant benefit.

The county budget revenue for 2021 is $8,740,359, with the budgeted expenses at $9,791,966. The difference is made up by carry over balances from the previous year which is standard. The budget includes the departments of the sheriff, the jail expense at the Davis-DeKalb, the county commission, the county clerk and elections, the county treasurer, the county assessor, the recorder of deeds, the public administrator, the prosecuting attorney, the coroner, the court administration and circuit clerk, the juvenile office and the county road and bridge crew.

Our county clerk will print and put the entire budget in the paper, which can then be reviewed in detail. My thanks to our county commission, Dave Mapel and Alvin Thompson for their work on the budget, and to each individual office that met with us. And special thanks to our County Clerk, Sherry Parks, who brings this all together in assembling the final budget.

Ed Douglas is Livingston County’s Presiding Commissioner.