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County approves preliminary budget; sheriff brings up salary concerns

The Cape Girardeau County Commission passed a preliminary 2020 budget after a public hearing was held on Monday, Dec. 16. The preliminary general revenue budget for 2020, which covers most county offices, totals $13.7 million in requests. That total is $1.19 million more than last year’s budgeted expenditures.

County Auditor Pete Frazier said this was due to several things including the fact that 2020 is a presidential election year. Election appropriations are up almost $300,000 compared to last year’s budget.

“Around $280,000 of that is going to be as a result of it being a presidential election year,” Frazier said. He added that included in those additional costs is funding for more part-time election workers.

The combined dispatch center between the county and the City of Jackson also resulted in an increase in the budget. The dispatch center was added as a new department in the budget, with estimated expenditures of $884,000 including salaries.

The sheriff’s department budget previously included the dispatch center, and $413,000 was moved from the sheriff’s appropriations to the dispatch center budget. The remaining costs will be offset by the City of Jackson reimbursing the county for half of the dispatch center’s expenses.

The new courthouse, which is set to open April 1, also resulted in a small addition to the budget, with the new building being appropriated $67,700 for utility and other incidental costs.

Some of those additional costs were offset by the county moving out of the Common Pleas Courthouse in Cape Girardeau once the new courthouse is open. “As a result, the expenditures [for the Cape Girardeau courthouse and annex] will go to zero for the remainder of that year,” Frazier said.

Because of the new courthouse, the preliminary budget also consolidates the salaries of custodial staff into the building and grounds department budget. Previously, the costs were split between several of the county’s buildings. Frazier said that the new courthouse will soon house all of the county’s custodial staff and they will then rotate between the other buildings.

The last department that saw a significant difference from last year’s expenditures was the county parks. The parks department saw a $42,500 increase in its budget, which totals around $400,000. Frazier said there were a number of one-time improvements to the park, including shelters and playgrounds, which will be offset by grants and other cooperative agreements.

Frazier estimated that sales tax income, which is the general revenue’s largest source of funding, will be around $7.35 million in the coming year. “That is a flat estimate,” he said. “It is very similar to what we currently have received this year and is very close to the previous year.”

The county is also expecting to receive an additional $4.66 million in other sources such as reimbursements and grants, leading to a total 2020 income of $12 million.

Frazier estimated that the county will have around $3.4 million in the general fund at the end of the year, allowing for up to $15.4 million available for appropriations. If the estimates are correct and the budget appropriations are followed, the county is expected to have $1.67 million remaining in the fund at the end of 2020.

Road and bridge spending is budgeted at $3.3 million. The county has a balance of $942,000 currently in the fund, with $3.2 million estimated income through Proposition 1 funds and other sources. Assessment expenditures are budgeted at $1.1 million, with an estimated $995,000 assessment income in 2020.

Frazier said this preliminary budget will allow the county to operate until the commissioners pass a final budget by Jan. 10. He added that after the end of the year, the actual remaining fund balances can be used in the budget, instead of estimates.

At the public hearing for the 2020 budget, Sheriff Ruth Ann Dickerson spoke about how the county’s entry-level officers are being paid well below police officers in the City of Jackson and the City of Cape Girardeau.

According to Dickerson, the Cape Girardeau Police Department’s starting pay is around $38,000, and the Jackson Police Department is raising its starting pay to $36,000. “I’m paying my entry-level officers $32,000,” she said.

Dickerson said the department can’t compete for quality officers at the current pay level. She said the problem is even worse for jailer positions, whose starting salary at the county is $28,000.

“I know you are well aware of it,” she said to the commissioners. “I know we’ve had lots of discussions, and I appreciate everything you guys have done to consider what you do for us.”

County Commissioner Paul Koeper said he agreed it was an issue, but that they didn’t currently have a solution to finding funds that could solve it. “We’ve been in discussions with Sheriff Dickerson for the past year and a half,” Koeper said. “We understand the problem — it’s just that we don’t know where to get it from.”

Koeper added that the budget does include cost-of-living salary increases for county employees, but it is not enough to solve this problem. He did mention that funds that the state owes the county, totaling $600,000 could help solve this and other issues.

“We are doing the best we can, I feel,” Koeper said. “It would sure be nice for the state to pay us what they really owe us.”

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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