Resigned to the fact that they would not have a draft of the Boone County budget by the Nov. 15 deadline imposed by Missouri law, county officials on Monday buried themselves in a sea of budget documents and worked on the problems that have caused the delay.
“Nobody can move until you get good cost data,” said Boone County Auditor June Pitchford, who is responsible for preparing the budget.
The delay, caused by problems with a consultant’s study on pay increases and ambiguity about state funding, has resulted in a revamped budget preparation process this year. Instead of submitting a draft budget to be reviewed by the commission, Pitchford will work hand-in-hand with the Boone County Commission to massage the 2005 budget into its final form.
Pitchford said she hopes to have a budget available for public viewing by mid-December. The commission must approve a final budget by Jan. 10.
Jim Gardner, press secretary for Attorney General Jay Nixon, said Boone County will not face any legal consequences from the state for not having a draft budget by Monday.
“The law does say when the budget has to be in place, but there are no sanctions,” Gardner said. “We can’t imagine a situation where the state would be involved against a county in a situation like this.”
Pitchford said the main problem is that she doesn’t know how much county employee wages should be increased next year. It’s also unclear how much money the county will receive from the state for voting-technology improvements that must be implemented by 2006 under the Help America Vote Act.
The ambiguity on wages is a result of a study by Public Sector Personnel Consultants that made salary recommendations for Boone County employees based on comparisons with other counties that arrived late and was flawed.
Pitchford expects to receive a revision from the consulting firm by Dec. 2. Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said it was too early to know if the company would be retained for future projects.
Miller was joined at the Monday meeting by Pitchford and Presiding Commissioner Keith Schnarre. Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin was absent.
Consulting by phone with department heads, county officials tweaked the preliminary budget numbers by postponing plans to replace kitchen equipment at the Boone County Jail and printers in the information technology department.
They delayed decisions on several items, including hiring a planner/code enforcer, increasing the social services fund, and paying to design a new financial software system for county.
Final decisions will likely be made at a future work session when all three commissioners are present, Miller said.
Pitchford estimates the county will have $22.8 million in expenditures and $21.5 million in revenue in the 2005 general operating fund.
The 2004 budget projected $22.4 million in expenditures and $20.3 million in revenue in the general fund. The county retains a reserve fund of more than $4 million.
Pitchford said this year’s process, which involves greater and earlier collaboration with the commission on the budget, will continue in the future.
“Instead of budgetary details being addressed by the commissioners and the auditor while we should be having public hearings, this work will be done earlier,” Pitchford said.