Meeting the challenge

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 24, 2003

If there's a theme to the mid-fiscal year budget numbers just released by the county government, Karen Berry said, it's that the county is "meeting the challenge."

As Chair of the Pike County Commission, Berry knows all too well that there hasn't been enough money to go around for quite some time.

"It seems obvious, but we still can't spend more than we take in," she said.

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And though the county has taken in $1,912,623.83 at the midpoint of the fiscal year, county Chief Financial Officer Debra Gibson said that money is going to have to last another six months.

"It looks good, but that's because all the revenue is in," she said. "Now we just have to spend it in the right amounts."

According to County Administrator Harry Sanders, 90 percent of the county's incoming money has already arrived. Most of the revenue comes from collection of ad valorum taxes.

"The second half is the toughest half," he said, referring to the upcoming six months which must be funded by the existing pool of funds.

Still, according to the midway report card, which showed collection of a total of $2,659,597 in taxes for the general and special revenue funds, the county is "right on target of what we anticipated," said Gibson.

The only significant drop off from the cash streams predicted in last October's budget have been the monies from gas taxes. According to Sanders, the outbreak of war in the Middle East drove up gas prices and cut into fossil fuels consumption. With fewer people filling up on expensive gasoline, the county saw a slight dip in gas tax revenue, Sanders said.

Will the county adjust expectations in next year's budget?

It's hard to say, Sanders said. But with construction of the budget requests continuing through the summer and into the fall, Sanders said the end of March numbers can be a useful benchmark for the coming year.

"You can use the history in order to make predictions about the coming year and forecast your anticipated revenue," he said.

Still, the message is mixed for those who will be looking for money from the county again in October. Though the county was unable to fund several agencies seeking appropriations for two years in a row, the future isn't looking too bright for those agencies in the fall.

"Money has been tight and the county has been playing cards close to its vest for some time now," Sanders said.

Gibson agreed that the lean times would likely continue for agencies such as SenioRx, the prescription drug program for the elderly, and the county extension service.

"In order to properly fund those agencies that have requested money, there'd have to be some new revenue streams," Gibson said. "And we haven't seen those."

"The only way to increase the money for those agencies would be to get more revenue," Sanders said.

Berry said the cuts in appropriations were unpopular but a consequence of budgetary necessity.

"It's not something we were happy with," she said.

Still, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

"This year is an appraisal year," Sanders said. "As property gets appraised, the tendency, without having a projection from the revenue department, is usually that the price of property and value appreciates. That means a little more revenue in the form of property taxes."

But the increase won't be enough to get the overarching monkey off of the county's back: over $7 million in debt. Though Gibson said she anticipates the 2001 and 2001 bank notes - $310,000 and $200,000 respectively - being paid off by the end of 2004, there will still be the cost of the new Pike County Board of Education Building to deal with and the $1.32 million in warrants from 2000.

In addition, the county's debt could be compounded if the commission decides to build a new jail, a project that has been estimated at anywhere from $2 million-$5 million.

Stephen Stetson can be reached at stephen.stetson@