MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

September 26, 2013

County plugs $323K budget hole

Belt-tightening, land sale help commissioners balance books

By D.E. Smoot

Phoenix Staff Writer

Muskogee County commissioners plugged a $323,000 hole in this year’s budget by winning concessions from some officers and pledges from others to work within the confines of last year’s allocations.

They also tapped the proceeds from the recent sale of land at the southwest corner of the U.S. 69 and Shawnee Bypass intersection to the city. The transaction brought in $826,596, from which commissioners will use from $35,000 to $40,000 to fill the gap in the $6.25 million general fund budget.

Commission Chairman Stephen Wright, District 2, said while the county’s share of ad valorem tax revenue is up this year, other revenue streams were down. Those that were down, Wright said, include sales and use tax collections and a decrease in the county’s return on investments.

“I know the economy has a lot to do with it,” Wright said. “People are just not buying the way they were, and that is what we are having to deal with.”

District 1 Commissioner Gene Wallace said he and his colleagues knew there would be no new money for this year’s budget. The big question they had to answer was how to deal with the shortfall.

“We looked at several methods: One was across-the-board cuts and another was to look at ways increasing the revenue flowing to the county,” Wallace said. “What ended up happening was some of the officers — due to technological improvements and reductions in manpower — were able to provide us money back from what was budgeted last year.”

Some of the offices that were able to accept a decrease in this year’s allocations were the commissioners, election officials, the sheriff and treasurer. Muskogee County Treasurer Kelly Garrett gave up the lion’s share, accepting more than a $100,000 less than the $238,5000 budgeted for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Garrett said he was able to give that money back without sacrificing services because he can tap the county resell fund to supplement the needs of his office. Garrett said during the past year he and his staffers have been “able to balance what we have to do with less money.”

“I haven’t worked anywhere in a long time where budget day was any fun,” Garrett said. “But we have decided in this office we can tighten our belt by watching expenditures and still offer the same level of service to taxpayers.”

District 3 Commissioner Dexter Payne said one of the biggest challenges the county has to deal with is the indirect costs associated with personnel. Those costs, he said, have continued to creep up over time.

“It is amazing to me: We have worked for years trying to do a balanced budget, but we are always just a little bit short,” Payne said. “When you look at it, the indirect (payroll) costs were about 33 percent of a person’s check, and now it’s up to about 41 percent — if I hire you at $100 I am going to be paying $141.”

Despite the $323,000 revenue shortfall, Wallace said overall Muskogee County appears to be in pretty good shape. He described the county’s general budget as “still pretty healthy.”

“The bottom line is a lot of the county officers will be able to operate on the amount of money that was allocated last year,” Wallace said. “The last thing we want to do is grow government. We want to operate within the amount of money we have available.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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