by Ivan Foley
On a split vote, commissioners approved the 2016 Platte County budget on Monday.
Ron Schieber, presiding commissioner, opposed the budget. Duane Soper, second district commissioner, and Beverlee Roper, first district commissioner, both voted in favor.
Schieber said the reason for his opposition is the fact the county’s contribution into the county employees’ retirement fund, known as LAGERS, is increased. The amount of the increase in tax dollars spent in 2016, is believed to be $120,000 to $150,000.
“The county already has a very lucrative, very good retirement system. Most taxpayers do not have a LAGERS retirement system,” Schieber said.
Schieber said he is a believer in keeping the county “competitive in the market” but said enhancing the retirement system is not the direction he would go to do that.
Schieber expressed disappointment that the county auditor had included an increase in the county’s contribution into LAGERS in his recommended budget without the commission’s prior approval and without the commission having had discussions to do that.
“I cannot support that,” Schieber said.
LAGERS is the Missouri Local Government Employment Retirement System, described as a non-profit public pension plan that pays protected monthly benefits to its members and beneficiaries based on earned wages and the length of employment within the system.
Platte County employees become vested to receive benefits from LAGERS after the completion of five years of service with the county. The benefit factor is an employer-elected percentage ranging from 1% to 2.5%. Platte County’s elected percentage under the new budget is moving from 1.5% to 1.75%, it was said during the budget hearing.
County employees do not make a personal financial contribution into the LAGERS program. The contributions are made only by the county.
The budget passed by the commission includes a one percent across the board salary increase for all employees. All three county commissioners agreed on that aspect of the budget, Schieber said.
In addition, the budget includes a $4,000 salary increase for each of nine full time assistant prosecutors in the office of Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd. One part-time assistant prosecutor will receive a raise of $2,000.
“I support the budget we put together. The only disagreement we probably had was about LAGERS. I really feel that’s an important part for employees here,” said Soper, whose term is up this year. Soper has indicated he will not be seeking election to a second term.
“This was my last budget. It was a great process with as good a dialogue as we’ve ever had,” Soper said.
Roper said the three commissioners had “positive budget discussion” in meetings held over the last two months. “We’ve gone through every line item.”
The county commission budgeted revenue based on sales and use tax revenue equal to what came in during the 2013 year.
In 2015, county sales/use tax collections, the primary sources of general fund revenue for the county, came in at 1.2% greater than 2014. This a more conservative method than what had been proposed by Kevin Robins, county auditor.
“Budgeting projected tax growth was not the way to go. We came to an agreement on that,” Schieber said of the three commissioners.
Schieber pointed out it is tough to tell how much of the county’s 1.2% in sales/use tax combined growth last year is due to actual economic growth and how much might be due to the Missouri Department of Revenue going after back taxes.
Schieber pointed out that going after back taxes is “not an ongoing revenue stream.”
He also pointed out how the county’s use tax revenue always has wild swings in collections.
“Use tax continues to be a very volatile piece of our revenue. We have swings of (months where revenue was ) 15 percent up followed by 20 percent down. So sales and use tax growth is not going to be part of the budget,” Schieber remarked.
As reported by The Landmark last week, the commission is creating a Law Enforcement Reserve Fund. This fund is at the request of the commission and was not included in the budget proposed by Robinson, the county auditor.
The purpose of the law enforcement reserve fund will be to set aside a portion of the cash carryover for future law enforcement projects, such as possibly completing the basement area of the county jail to increase the inmate capacity, refresh the recently updated emergency radio system, and for future law enforcement projects.
The commission’s 2016 proposed budget includes a transfer of $500,000 from the general fund to this newly created law enforcement reserve fund.
Building a reserve for law enforcement needs is an issue Schieber talked about in his campaign for office in 2014.
“Law enforcement is one of my main concerns. This commission took steps to do some financial planning for long term law enforcement needs, including possible jail improvements that might need to be made,” Schieber said.
He mentioned there also could be a future mandated requirement to once again update the county’s emergency radio system.
Schieber also spoke of the efforts by the commission to have Brian Nowotny, parks director, develop and fund a long term parks operation and maintenance program. That’s another item Schieber had mentioned in his campaign in analyzing the county parks department.
“It’s very easy to do projects and they look a lot better on a white board but I do know a long term parks maintenance plan, though not as cool, is very important to the future of our county considering the investment (taxpayers) make in the parks program,” Schieber said during Monday’s budget hearing.
A similar long term operation and maintenance program is being developed in the facilities department, Schieber indicated.
Cash carryover in the commission’s proposed 2016 budget is $1,190,553, using cash projections as of Dec. 21.
The commission is proposing $100,000 in the general fund to go into a contingency account for unforeseen or unanticipated expenses.
Also, the commission’s proposed budget includes transferring $692,000 to the capital projects fund.