COLUMBIA — The Boone County commissioners say they're out of options.
After putting off purchases, cutting payroll costs and eliminating inefficiencies, county officials say they are expecting a $550,000 shortfall by the end of the year.
On Thursday, the commission will consider a property tax hike to help cover the shortfall. The taxes could increase by up to 5 cents per $100 of assessed value, though Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson said the increase would likely be less.
The shortfall was caused in large part by declining sales tax revenue. Last year, sales tax revenue fell for the first time since the county started collecting it. This year, the county projected that sales tax revenue would stay about the same. Instead, it's falling by about 3 percent.
The county is required by state law to use part of the sales tax revenue to lower property taxes. When sales tax revenue is down, the commission can raise its property taxes to make up the difference.
But at a hearing Tuesday, a handful of Boone County residents told the commission they have had to tighten their belts in this economic downturn, and they think the county should, too.
Columbia resident John Donelon said the county erred in assuming the economic climate would fare better in Boone County than the rest of the country. With unemployment up, he said, people can't afford a larger tax burden.
"When you see unemployment like that, what does it mean?" he said. "People don't have money in their pockets."
Greg Mullanix, a heavy equipment operator in the Boone County Public Works department, said the county should cut elsewhere to make up the shortfall instead of raising taxes.
"Any raise right now from you guys ... is not really acceptable to me," he told the commission. "I have to cut back, and I suggest you guys do the same."
The commission said it has already made cuts. Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said the county has worked to keep services the same while cutting costs, including hiring fewer new employees.
Miller said the county exhausted its other options before considering a property tax increase.
"We don't take this lightly," she said. "This was not an easy decision for us to even think about."
The commission will likely allow public comment on the proposed tax increase at the start of its regular meeting Thursday, Pearson said.