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County Commission Communications
A Periodic Column Written by Ed Douglas, Presiding Commissioner

COUNTY BUDGET
January, 2019

Last week, the Livingston County Commission completed the county's 2019 budget. The county’s total budget revenue for 2019 is estimated to be $9,799,827, and total budgeted expense is $8,794,684, leaving the county with an ending balance of $1,005,143. Based on these figures, at the end of 2019 we are estimating that we will have slightly over 10% of our revenue in reserves, as promised to our citizens during last year's sales tax election. Ideally, it is advised that counties have a real reserve of 25% to 30% of your budget. The reasoning is that in the event of a disaster (think Joplin tornado), with the most significant part of our budget being our sales tax, an entity like the county could be out of revenue for a significant period of time. This is similar to the advice financial planners, me included; give to individuals in keeping 25 percent of their annual income in a reserve fund. Some experts strive for a 30 percent county reserve to buffer themselves from a recession, which could then drop their reserve down to the 25 percent that protects for a disaster. In our case this reserve, although not where it ultimately needs to be is a long way from where we were two years ago with effectively no real reserve.


CT 01 22 19 - The Livingston County Commission has been meeting for the last several weeks in order to review and process the county's 2019 budget. Pictured, left to right are: Alvin Thompson, eastern district commissioner; Ed Douglas, presiding commissioner; Dave Mapel, western district commissioner; Sherry Parks, county clerk and budget officer; Steve Ripley, assessor; and Ken Lauhoff, former eastern district commissioner.

Another one of the major items we promised the voters was the need to maintain our facilities, primarily our courthouse. We estimated that it would take $100,000 per year to maintain this facility adequately. Last fall, we began a $1,000,000 courthouse remodeling project which is expected to be completed later this spring. The project includes a new roof and tuck pointing, complete cleaning of the outside of the building, all new outside doors and windows, and new LED lighting and fixtures inside the courthouse, as well as some much-needed inside electrical work. This project is financed as a bond and will be paid back over 15 years at a payment of less than $100,000 per year. In addition, there will be some operational savings from the more efficient lighting and electrical work. We believe this project will bring the courthouse up to the standards that the public, and the National Historic Society, expects for the next generation.


The north entrance of the Livingston County Courthouse on Webster Street facing Silver Moon Plaza will soon be the only doors available for entering and exiting the courthouse. This spring, new doors will be installed; and due to security upgrades, all other doors will be used for emergency exits only. CT PHOTO Angie Talken


In April 2017, voters approved an increase to the county's sales tax, and a portion of the generated revenue is being used, as promised, on the much needed repairs for the historic building. CT PHOTO Angie Talken

An additional priority from our budget was to provide full time security within the courthouse. Prior to this year, we had an officer present only on days when court was held. This was really an important priority from all our elected officials to protect their staff and the public. Full-time security is now in effect. We expect new outer doors to arrive soon, and after installation, entering and exiting the courthouse will only be available through the north door, off of Webster Street. The other doors will be locked, and used for emergency exiting, only. Although this is less convenient than having all the doors accessible, we felt it was a necessary trade off to provide the needed protection that was strongly suggested by our elected officials.

Over the past couple of years, our budget has seen an emphasis placed on law enforcement. Therefore, we have added an additional deputy, as well as much needed equipment for the Sheriff's Department. Part of the emphasis on law enforcement includes having a full- time prosecutor which the voters approved last April and which began Jan. 1 of this year. One of his jobs in his full-time capacity is to help move prisoners through the court system as efficiently as possible which has proven to reduce the county's jail cost.

We have also tried to gradually improve the competitiveness of our employees' wage schedule. This is needed so that we can hire and maintain a quality staff. This year, we are raising our starting office salary from $10 to $10.25 an hour. We were also able to give a cost of living increase and some modest benefit improvements to help stay competitive with other positions.

Also as promised to our voters, our budget continues to provide financial support to our Townships that will help improve the county roads. In addition to the Cart Rock money (federally funded rock money) that the townships get for road rock, we have added $200,000 that will be used to help each of the 13 townships gradually improve the overall condition of their roads. This provides each township with an estimated $15,000 of additional funds that will be used by each township to improve an additional two miles of road within their township to a higher standard. It also allows us to purchase and install smaller drainage tubes of under two feet in diameter in each township. In the past, this was an expense that each township had to fund themselves. It should be noted that the county has always provided tubes two feet and larger for the townships.

It should also be noted that the Road and Bridge budget is tight and only allows us to replace one new bridge on average per year. With 120 bridges over 20 feet in length and a similar number of smaller bridges, this is inadequate. The gas tax that the voters voted down in November would have given 15 percent of the revenue to counties which in our case after fully phased in would have allowed us to build two bridges a year. We believe this gas tax is important to the County and our bridge program and hope that a gas tax is implemented gradually by the legislature or resubmitted in some fashion next year to the voters.

Finally, our jail costs have also increased, as we expected. The daily rate has risen from $30 per day several years ago to $40 per day last year, and now will go up to $45 per day this year. We hope that this increase will level-off for a while as has been promised by the Daviess/DeKalb jail administrator. These increases were not unexpected and were planned for in our sales tax proposal. However, they do increase our budget considerably. Although the daily rate at the Daviess/DeKalb Regional Jail has increased significantly, it is still more economically feasible than building a $10-$12 million jail facility, which is a comparison we monitor closely.

All in all, the commission feels good about how the budget came together this year. We believe we have made significant progress in meeting some important priorities for the county as we continue to uphold our promises to our voters.

My thanks go to all the elected officials who worked with us in this process. They include the county's recorder, assessor, collector/ treasurer, public administrator, prosecutor, clerk, sheriff, juvenile officer, circuit clerk and judges. A special thank you goes out to our County Clerk, Sherry Parks, who puts this massive document together. She spends untold hours making this all come together, and we are very appreciative of all her efforts. T hanks also to my fellow Commissioners Dave Mapel, Western District and Alvin Thompson, Eastern District for the hard work they put into this process.

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