County starts 2019 ‘in the hole’ financially
The county budget was the main topic of conversation at this week’s meeting of the Ozark County Commissioners. Ozark County Clerk Brian Wise told the commissioners he had received the first sales tax numbers for the year (collected in December 2018), and he said the county is starting 2019 “in the hole.”
“We live on sales tax, and if people get everything off Amazon, we don’t get any money,” said Presiding Commissioner John Turner, who pointed out that property tax only accounts for about 10 percent of the county’s income.
The commissioners said that, although the state of Missouri has begun collecting a 4.225 percent tax for at least some online sales, none of that is passed on to the counties. Additional legislation will be needed before counties and cities are able to collect tax from online sales, they said. In the meantime, the county has to come up with a balanced budget based on projected expenses and income.
“The biggest unknown factor is going to be the first degree murder trials,” said Turner, referring to the trials of Rebecca Ruud and Robert Peat, both charged with the 2017 murder of Ruud’s biological daughter, Savannah Leckie. The two trials have been transferred out of the county on change-of-venue motions, bit Ozark County is still required to pay the costs. Ruud’s jury trial is set for Sept. 9 in Springfield. Peat’s next court appearance is a pre-trial conference scheduled for April 17 in Springfield.
Courthouse maintenance will also be in the budget this coming year. Western District Commissioner Greg Donley said he estimates $10,000 will be needed to paint the courthouse.
The commissioners were relieved that nearly a half million dollars in anticipated FEMA funds related to road and bridge repairs linked to the spring 2017 flood came in at the tail end of 2018, ahead of the current federal government shutdown. But after the meeting, Donley expressed concern about another source of revenue that comes as “payment in lieu of taxes” from the U.S. Forest Service, which pays a percentage of what its property taxes would be on land inside the county that’s owned by the forest service. That income amounts to about $140,000, according to Wise. Donley said it most likely would be delayed by a shutdown. However, Wise said the funds usually come in during the month of June, and it seems unlikely the current shut down will last that long.
The Ozark County courthouse will be closed on Monday, and the commissioners will hold their weekly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22.