BOWLING GREEN—The Pike County Commission passed a balanced budget Monday that they said reflected a “tight” financial situation but found room for 2 percent raises for county employees.

“We’re trying to stay as competitive with [employee compensation] as we can,” presiding Commissioner Chris Gamm said at Thursday’s budget hearing. “The money this year is about as tight as we’ve ever seen it, as far as actual income.”

All three members of the county commission voted in favor of the budget.

Some office-holders had asked the commission for 85 cent raises, matching the increase in the Missouri minimum wage in 2020. Western District Commissioner Bill Allen said an across-the-board 85 cent increase would have cost more than $160,000 in salaries alone and more than $200,000 once benefits were factored in.

“We have to work within our budget, of what the people allow us to have. And we’re going to have to have some tough talks. We want our employees to make more money. We want to be able to keep up. But we’re not going to be able to keep up with the rate of inflation of the minimum wage. It’s not going to happen,” Allen said. “If we do, we’re going to have to look at who we’re going to cut, what we’re going to cut.”

This was the fourth year of raises for county employees, eastern district Commissioner Jim Sheppard said.

County employees will see raises reflected in their paychecks starting this pay period, which will reflect retroactive pay from Jan. 1.

An unusual accounting situation—an extra, 27th pay period this financial year—added about $110,000 in expenses to this year’s budget. 

The commission made up the difference spending down the county’s emergency fund for the year and cashing in credits built up with the state-run County Employees’ Retirement Fund when county employees leave their position before their retirement benefits vest.

“We had to do a lot of head-scratching to get it to work out, but we got it,” Allen said.

The commissioners said they felt the county’s substantial financial reserves could be drawn on to address financial emergencies. For general revenue, the county had about $1.77 million in reserve as of last Thursday.

The budget passed in 2020 was around $2.36 million, up from about $2.3 million in 2019.

Since 2006, Gamm said, the county’s revenue had “plateaued,” with tax collections capped by Missouri’s Hancock Amendment and no significant new streams of revenue.

“We have the same amount of monies to deal with every single year. As we raise salaries, our expenses stay the same. [We’re] trying to figure out where, on the expenditure side, that we can start to try to offset the raises,” Sheppard said.

At the two budget hearings, the commissioners said action in Jefferson City to allow counties to tax e-commerce sales might be one solution. It would have a limited direct impact on the county’s general fund, Gamm said, but might help other entities the county supports, giving the commission more money to work with. 

“If you buy a pie [in Pike County], as opposed to on Amazon, you’re paying 9 percent over here that helps fund all of our offices and the city offices,” Sheppard said. “We’re saying, you’re doing a sale in our county, and we’ll collect sales tax at the time of purchase.”

Action in Jefferson City would probably set off a court fight over whether a vote of the people was needed to apply the tax, commissioners told officer-holders at the Thursday budget hearing.

“We’ve almost been guaranteed there will be a legal battle from the big corporations saying ‘no, we don’t have to pay the local tax’,” Sheppard added. “I’ve talked to a couple state legislatures, and I’m on [the side of] pass it and see what happens.”

In the interim, Gamm said it was unlikely that voters would sign on to a tax increase, leaving county leadership working on only one side of the county’s balance sheet.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to cut costs,” Gamm said. “We don’t want to cut services that we’re providing to the county, and I’d say we’re about as bare minimum on employees as we can get. Where its going to come from, I don’t know.”

“It’s really starting to be something, trying to figure out how we can keep this county moving forward,” Gamm added.

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