by Alan McArthur
A dispute appears to be brewing between the Platte County Commission and the county's auditor over the auditor's recommended budget.
On Thursday during their weekly meeting, the commissioners said they were surprised to read about the budget in the local papers because it is generally not released until the commission has had a chance to review it.
Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, said she was surprised to read the stories.
“I read the local papers about the budget and was amazed with all the information,” said Knight. “We haven't had any meetings yet.”
Knight said the auditor, Siobhann Williams, usually presents a recommended budget by Nov. 15 and the commission holds meetings to change and discuss the budget.
Another issue for Knight was the included proposed pay increase of two percent for employees.
“We never put any salary increase in, it is added in last,” said Knight.
Knight said they include any salary increases at the end of the process after working on the budget to find out how much of a salary increase they can offer. Knight said the commission may still approve a 2 percent salary increase.
Knight said that in the past, for every one percent of salary increase for employees, it costs the county about $110,000.
Knight was also upset the recommended budget showed reducing the budget carryover amount.
“Traditionally we have a $2 million carryover,” said Knight. “It is a policy decision to spend that money. We have traditionally never spent more money than we take in.”
Tom Pryor, first district commissioner, said the commission tries to work with the department heads.
“We try to work together. I hate to see this stuff hit the newspapers,” said Pryor.
Another commissioner also weighed in on the discussion.
“The cash has taken three or four years to build up and now to see that disappear in 12 months without knowing what will happen in 2010 . . . ,” said Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner. “It was interesting to read this in the paper before seeing the budget.”
Plunkett said he had been out of the office until that day (Thursday) when he received the recommended budget.
Knight reiterated that the recommended budget is only very preliminary.
“This isn't just looking at the expenses, we don't know the ending balances until Dec. 31,” said Knight. “Right now sales tax revenue is 3 percent above, but we have to wait until the end of the year.”
Knight said the commission will meet with department heads to discuss the budget and will approve the budget before Jan. 30.
The recommended budget showed a decrease in spending of $5.7 million. Williams is recommending spending $52.4 million, down from $58.1 million in 2008.
Williams is also reporting a decrease in the expected revenue from sales tax. The county's excess revenue carryover would drop from $2 million to $1 million in 2009.
Williams previously told The Landmark that few departments would see a decrease, except that the sheriff's department may see a small cut.
“These excess funds will be needed to fund the county's operations in 2009,” Williams wrote in a press release.
“Like other local governments, Platte County is expected to experience revenue declines in the coming budget year. I am pleased to report that the county is on strong financial standing and should weather this economic downturn without dramatic cuts in services or staff.”
Williams was unavailable for comment at Landmark deadline.
The recommended budget was still available on the county's website as of Monday at www.co.platte.mo.us