Two of the Platte County Commissioners had to take the lead in distributing the 2006 budget to the media and general public late Tuesday afternoon.
After approving Auditor Sandra Thomas’ notice that the budget would be available to the public at 5 p.m. on Tuesday during their morning administrative session, First District Commissioner Tom Pryor and Second District Commissioner Jim Plunkett were the officials on hand to provide the proposed budget copies to the public and media.
“Yesterday we approved the auditor’s notice that the budget books would be available to the public at 5 p.m.,” said Plunkett. “Yesterday afternoon we were getting phone calls from the media telling us that the auditor was referring them to us.
“It was my understanding that in previous years the budget came from the auditor’s office. I made photocopies in the commissioner’s office so that we could meet the five o’clock deadline that the auditor had committed to,” stated Plunkett.
Thomas told a different version of the story.
In a phone interview on Wednesday morning, Thomas told The Landmark that Plunkett said he would prepare the budget books.
“I had been told by Commissioner Plunkett that they were going to take care of those copies. Then I got a call at 4:30 p.m. saying he didn’t intend to,” stated Thomas.
Thomas said that while she wasn’t at her office, her employees were attempting to make copies of the budget but were experiencing difficulties with the copy machines.
Plunkett, however, says that after he left a voice mail for Thomas, she called him back and left a voice mail saying they could get copies out “but it would not be within the time frame of 5 p.m.” Thomas’ message was that the copies would be available the next day.
“At one point, she said it was always a challenge for them to make copies. I said don’t worry about making copies, if need be I will go out with my own money and make copies. . .we will have copies for the public,” Plunkett said.
“I felt she was not cooperating in helping the county meet its goal of getting the budget distributed by 5 p.m.,” Plunkett said.
Meanwhile, missing from the budget distributed late Tuesday was the annual budget message prepared by the auditor.
“I do have it. The reason it’s not there is because there were some changes and I wanted to discuss them with the commissioners first,” said Thomas.
Thomas stated that the changes she is referring to are those that dealt with salary cuts for offices throughout Platte County.
“There were changes in the budget and that affects the message a little,” she said.
Thomas’ budget message to the county came in via fax to The Landmark on Wednesday morning, after a request from the newspaper.
According to the 2006 budget released on Tuesday afternoon, Thomas says total general fund revenues from taxes and fees are estimated to be $13,185,940 in 2006, up by only about $300,000 from 2005.
Thomas also reported that she is estimating a 2006 sales tax growth of 7.5% compared to the ’05 increase of 7.6%. In 2004, Platte County saw a growth of 8.5%.
After a 20% shortfall in the use tax in 2005 because of the $400,000 refund to a business in the spring, Thomas said the county is estimating revenue of $3.1 million in use tax revenue in 2006. In 2005, the county saw only use tax revenue of $2.7 million.
With the need to balance revenue and expenditures, commissioners announced that 13 jobs would be affected by salary cuts.
With cuts being made countywide, Treasurer Bonnie Brown asked if the commissioners had considered increasing the mill levy during Tuesday morning’s officeholders meeting. (See related article.)
Brown told The Landmark that she feels the commission should have increased taxes instead of making budget cuts.
“I felt like the decision in the levy handled by the prior commission was a political move and I feel this commission could have seen this as a source of revenue to save employees jobs,” said Brown. “I feel like they were seeing it as a political move and I think the commission chose politics over people.”
Sheriff Richard Anderson told The Landmark on Wednesday morning that he agreed with Brown’s suggestion to the commission.
“I think they should have adjusted the mill levy that was reduced in 2004 because I think the impact of that reduction had been too great of an impact on the general operations of the county,” said Anderson.
Thomas stated she did not necessarily agree with Brown and Anderson’s idealogy.
“I don’t think that raising taxes is the only answer. I understood where Bonnie was coming from yesterday, but certainly at this point that is not the answer,” said Thomas.
“There are a lot of things that I think Platte County is going to have to deal with in the next few years and we’re going to have to come up with new and innovative ways to be more efficient and to possibly find new sources of revenues and to find cost savings.”
Thomas indicated that she had a few ideas that she was currently working on.
“I can’t really say anything because I don’t know if they are going to work or not. I don’t know if we can save all the jobs but I am confident that there are some things out there that haven’t been thought of before and I think we should pursue those options,” stated Thomas.
Anderson said by the time the decision was made by former Commissioners Michael Short and Steve Wegner and Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight to reduce the mill levy it was too late to complain.
“There’s no point in complaining after the action had already been taken by Short, Wegner and Knight,” stated Anderson.
“When the question came up in 2005, I made my point known to the commission before the vote.”
A public hearing will be held for the 2006 budget at 9 a.m., Jan. 13 in the county commission meeting room.