Jasper County approves ‘tight’ $45 million budget

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New County Auditor Sarah Hoover makes her first official presentation to the Jasper County Commissioners on Thursday, Jan. 3, when she presented the final version of the $45 million, 2019 Jasper County Budget at a special budget hearing. John Hacker / The Carthage Press

A move to improve retirement benefits for county employees and increased workers compensation costs means Jasper County officials will be pinching pennies a little tighter in 2019.

The Jasper County Commissioners voted to approve what the former and current county auditor describe as a “tight” budget for the fiscal year that started on Jan. 1.

New Auditor Sarah Hoover said the county collected a little more revenue from sales taxes and property taxes than it expected, but the budget for the coming year will still be tight.

“As many of you know we made some changes since the original proposed budget in November,” Hoover told the Jasper County Commissioners at a public hearing on Jan. 3. “Most of those changes were due to the fact that we had a better idea of actual costs in December as opposed to October and November. So most of those figures were a better estimate of 2019 expenses from the 2018 figures. Receipts we received toward the end of the year were a little higher than we expected, and we were able to add $75,000 into the county contingencies for you to be able to do what you need to do. If we don’t spend it, great, that’s more money going forward.”

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The numbers

The 2019 Jasper County Budget calls for $45,950,888 in total spending, an increase of about $2.2 million compared to the 2018 budget.

That includes $18,449,743 in the general fund that provides money for most of the county offices and the 300 county employees.

The county highway department expects to spend almost $11.5 million.

The Law Enforcement Sales Tax Trust Fund, which includes the money from the quarter-cent law enforcement sales tax, will provide $5 million to supplement the general revenue fund’s allocations for the Sheriff’s Office, Jasper County Detention Center and Prosecutor’s Office.

Much of the increase in overall spending comes in the Juvenile Justice and courthouse renovation sales tax fund as that money is spent to pay off the bonds sold to finance the 2017 renovations to the Courthouse in Carthage and the new Juvenile Justice Center, under construction in Joplin.

Change of administration

Hoover took over for long-time County Auditor Richard Webster on Jan. 1 after winning the elections in 2018 to the post.

Webster did not run for reelection in 2018, but he still had to prepare the 2019 budget, with Hoover’s help.

In November, Webster said the county was in a “break-even situation” in the general revenue fund, which funds most county operations.

He said the county will face increasing expenses in 2018 because of a decision by the Jasper County Commissioners to improve the retirement plan for county employees and the addition of the Jasper County Juvenile Justice Center, set for completion in March in Joplin.

“We’re solvent, but in 2019 there’s no cushion,” Webster said. “We’ll get through this budget, but my concern is for a year from now, being able to sustain all of this.”

Budgeting challenges

• Hoover said the county is expecting an increase in the costs of its workers compensation plan because of a couple of incidents in 2017 and 2018 that resulted in injuries to county employees.

• Webster said the county could also see an increase in property insurance costs in the wake of the May 2017 hail storm that damaged the roofs on most county buildings in Carthage, including the Jasper County Courthouse, so seriously that they had to be replaced.

• Hoover said the county has a better idea now of how much it will have to spend to furnish the new Juvenile Justice Center in Joplin after receiving updated numbers from the architect, but actual costs for utilities, maintenance, staffing and other expenses are still estimates.

• Webster said the state of Missouri is slow in reimbursing the county for expenses in the Jasper County Detention Center for housing prisoners in state custody.

“It would be better if the state would pay us for these criminal costs,” Webster said. “That’s $400,000 we’ve not collected but we’re at their mercy there.”

• Webster said elections will pose a challenge looking ahead to 2020. The 2019 budget is tight in a year when there are no major elections and none of the costs related to those elections.

County spending on elections will jump significantly in 2020 when the county has to hold a primary election in August and a Presidential election in November.

Other highlights

The budget includes pay hikes for Jasper County Sheriff’s Office employees.

Sheriff Randee Kaiser said the pay hikes were needed to stay competitive with the pay being offered in Joplin and other area police departments.

The Sheriff’s budget also includes $50,000 to pay overtime, something Kaiser said hasn’t been offered in Jasper County in recent memory.

Until this year, employees who worked beyond their normal time on shift were reimbursed in compensated time off, or comp time.

The 2019 budget also includes $8,000 for the Carthage Humane Society and $12,000 for the Joplin Humane Society.

Those line items became controversial last year when the budget eliminated the payment to the Carthage Humane Society. That money was restored later in 2018 when Carthage Humane Society officers appealed to the Commissioners.

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