A breakdown of on what, when, and where your dollars are spent.
When asked about the importance of good budgeting, Warren Buffet once said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone else planted a tree a long time ago.” Whether you live in the city or county, the tree-planting process begins appropriately enough, in the spring, and it can last almost until the start of the fiscal calendar on November 1.
The budget process may last six months, but according to Ken Hussey, the 314-page, $65.4 million city budget is “on our minds throughout the year.” Hussey is the council member for Jefferson City’s third ward and currently sits on the budget committee along with all 10 council members.
The process starts with the department directors submitting their “wish lists,” says Hussey, to a committee that will eventually submit a proposal to the city administrator. From there, the budget will pass through the hands of many people for review. Stops include the desks of the city’s various department heads, the mayor, and then back again to the committee and department heads.
By late July, the council members have begun reviewing the budget. This process includes public hearings where the details of the budget are made public for citizens who want to learn more about its contents and offer their opinions.
Hussey notes that the city’s budget isn’t tied to social policy issues that are a big part of state and federal budgets. “We spend quite a bit of time working on the margins of the budget because most of the funds go toward everything that the city needs to function,” says Hussey. “There really isn’t any discretionary spending.”
For locals residing across city lines in Cole County, the budget process is similar, but does run differently to the city’s in many regards. According to county auditor, Kristen Berhorst, “Cole County is a first-class non-charter county with 13 elected officials, not including four elected judges, each with statutorily defined responsibilities and each accountable to the citizens of the county.”
These officials include: collector, recorder of deeds, county clerk, assessor, auditor, prosecuting attorney, sheriff, treasurer, public administrator, and circuit clerk.
The remaining three elected officials make up the county commission and are responsible for approving the annual adopted budget. The various elected officials make budget requests to the budget officer or county auditor, who then relays recommendations to the county commission that has the final oversight responsibility for the budget.
The budget officer then compiles and prepares the budget, based on the spending recommendations of the commission. Public access is a key element in the county’s budget process. Budget documents are made available for distribution, at least one public hearing on the proposed document is required before the budget can go into legal effect.
Where does the money come from?
The bulk of city income comes from sales tax — two percent in Jefferson City — and gross receipts tax. “We have a pretty stable sales tax,” says Hussey. “Even through tough times, Jefferson City is a stable employer.”
Another portion comes from the fees that the city collects for the various services it provides. “Parks and recreation is one department that collects a lot of fees for everything they do,” says Hussey.
The parking garages and parking meters around town generate funds for the city, with about $340,000 coming from parking garages and $248,000 from parking meters in last year’s budget. These funds pay the salaries of the city staff in that department and, if there is any surplus left over, “it stays in that department while we look at the feasibility of adding another parking garage in the downtown area at some point,” says Margie Mueller, director of finance and information technology services for Jefferson City.
Utility tax is another source of income for the city; one good thing about extreme weather is that funds are generated from the heavier use utilities. When the weather is mild, people don’t use their air conditioners or heaters as much. “That’s good news for them,” says Hussey, “but it means fewer tax dollars for the city.”
The county revenue stream is similar to that of the city, as it heavily relies on taxes including property, sales, and use taxes. Both fees and grants make up the rest of the county’s revenue.
Where does the money go?
“Even after the budget is finalized, there are unexpected revenue opportunities, such as grant opportunities, that allow the budget to be amended,” says Mueller. For example, according to Mueller, the current year’s budget was amended to add funds that were then used to purchase 10 new patrol cars for the police and to improve storm water runoff problems throughout the city.
Approximately half of the budget provides the city with things like wastewater management systems. Wastewater management in particular is “obviously a necessary service, so we can’t really cut funds there to send to any of the other departments,” says Hussey. Other departments, like parks and recreation, receive some funding from the budget.
The other half of the budget goes toward public safety, which includes police and firefighters. Laura Ward, council member for Jefferson City’s second ward, explains that public safety is one area where the city council works to be fiscally responsible while making sure that emergency workers have the protection they need. “We want to make sure our police officers and firefighters have the equipment they need to be safe,” says Ward.
In an effort to be more efficient, personnel and payroll expenditures are always under review. “Any time someone leaves to go somewhere else, we use that as an opportunity to really review that position to see if it’s necessary or if those duties can be combined with another position,” says Hussey.
One big cost to the city is mother nature. “Most people have no idea just how expensive it can be to have a winter like the one we had this year,” says Hussey. The cost of the snow removal equipment, fuel for the trucks, repairs to equipment and roads, and overtime pay for the workers really adds up.
“We actually ran out of salt this year,” says Ward.
Like the city, in the county, the primary budgeting priority is to maintain financial stability. “The spending objectives of the county are substantially defined by state law, but not the spending priorities,” Berhorst says. “Public safety, infrastructure, and a healthy community all are prerequisites to economic growth and development which, in turn, is fundamental to a thriving community.”
The county’s budget is composed of 21 funds broken into 51 departments. Of these funds, six account for almost 92 percent of the county’s activities. These funds include road and bridge, sales tax, law enforcement sales tax, neighborhood sinking fund, emergency services sales tax, and the largest of all, the general fund.
Setting the record straight
It is not uncommon for a city’s residents to believe that there is frivolous or wasteful spending going on within a budget. “You really can’t go through the budget and find extra dollars,” says Hussey.
Many of the services provided in Jefferson City are the result of outside funds. State and
federal funds add up to about “$2 million total for the city’s budget,” according to Mueller. Most of these funds are from grant programs with the Federal Transit Authority and help out with the city’s public transportation.
The pedestrian walkway that was recently added to the Jefferson City Bridge is an example of this. “A lot of people thought we were wasting city dollars on that,” explains Hussey, “but that was actually paid for with federal dollars, and we really didn’t have any control over it.”
For those who worry about the money that is being used to maintain the stretch of Highway 50 that runs through Jefferson City, rest assured, those costs are covered with state funds. “Although I’m sure the state would be more than happy to let us pay for it,” laughs Hussey.
While Jefferson City and County do receive state and federal funds, it really isn’t more than what other cities and towns in Missouri receive. “A lot of people think that, since we are the state capital, that we must get more state funds, or even federal funds, than everyone else in the state, but that isn’t true,” says Hussey.
In a similar vein, Berhorst believes that it is important to note that when it comes to city funds, “The county is not involved in the city budget other than the projects that we work on cooperatively.” Such projects can include the capital improvement projects, animal shelters, or 911 operations.
While the city and county governments operate differently in organization and services, a commonality is the procedures behind the budgets. Both the City and County are highly organized and place emphasis on prioritizing the needs of the communities they represent.