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County commission works with department heads to finish budget

Thursday, October 8, 2009 | 11:48 p.m. CDT; updated 10:20 a.m. CST, Tuesday, December 8, 2009

COLUMBIA — After a series of meetings looking at the budgets for this and next year for Boone County government, Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller praised the elected officials and department heads.

"Everyone's being a partner and working toward a solution, and a lot of counties can't say that," Miller said.

A draft budget for fiscal 2010, which coincides with the calendar year, will be presented to the county commission by Nov. 15. Meanwhile, department heads are tweaking their spending plans to get the most out of their money, Miller said.

"They're not spending if they don't have to, even if it's in their budget," she said.

Here are some highlights from recent work sessions:

Collector

Miller praised Collector Pat Lensmeyer for collecting on unpaid taxes.

“It showed," she said. "It was significant.”

Lensmeyer collected about $7 million in delinquent taxes during the past fiscal  year, which ended in February. She said the owners of 494 parcels were subject to having their property sold because of unpaid taxes, a number that was nearly double that of previous years.

“It’s quite a process,” she said. “But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.” 

Auditor

Auditor June Pitchford reviewed spending of the one-fifth cent capital improvement sales tax that was approved by voters in April 2006. The projected sales tax shortfall is $620,000, which is an improvement from when the shortfall was projected to be up to $1 million. Interest revenue is expected to cover about half that shortfall, Pitchford said.

Two pending projects funded by the sales tax include the second phase of remodeling at the Alternative Sentencing Center and the repainting and recarpeting of the second floor of the Johnson Building. Voters approved $500,000 for the Johnson Building, but only $30,000 has been used so far. Some of the $500,000 will not be used for the project, and the leftover funds will help soften the blow of the tax shortfall.

Assessor

Assessor Tom Schauwecker and Pitchford told commissioners that the assessment fund will cover about $60,000 in information technology costs for county government.

"We’re able to pick up some slack in a very lean year,” Schauwecker said.

Schauwecker also asked commissioners for $70,000 from this year's supplemental budget for data that will help make his mapping system more accurate. The money would go toward making more “high accuracy corners,” which are points of reference. Jason Warzinik, geographic information system manager, said the problem came when the tax parcel maps were digitized.

Recorder

Recorder Bettie Johnson told the commission that even during the recession, her office is making about $100,000 more than expected.

Johnson and the commissioners also talked about two budget items that would change the way the public gets information from her office. Much like the county assessor's Web site, Johnson is looking at making information on her Web site accessible only after a person has registered with a password. Registration would be free.

“There’s no criteria,” she said. “It’s just so we have background if identity theft or something occurs.”

The programming for the project is scheduled for the last quarter of this fiscal year. Johnson also is looking at buying software that would help redact sensitive information such as Social Security numbers from public documents.

Clerk

County Clerk Wendy Noren said the state has given the county a grant that will go in part toward reviewing signatures in initiative petitions.

Noren listed about $115,000 in grants from the state on the proposed 2010 budget. About $14,500 would go toward reimbursement for the staff cost of verifying petition signatures.

The clerk’s office has to check each signature and name on ballot petitions. Noren told the county commissioners that she’s been seeing increased petitions in the past few years, particularly because paid petitioners know to gather petitions in the most populous counties. This year, 61 petitions have been registered with the state.

“We’re going to get hit probably more than we’ve ever seen before,” she said.

Missourian reporter Maggie Squires contributed to this report.


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