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Pulaski County borrows $150,000, sheriff's dispatchers could be targeted for cuts
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (Dec. 29, 2008) — Just three business days before the end of their fiscal year, Pulaski County Commissioners voted to approve borrowing $150,000 to cover the county’s budget deficit.

The deficit is due almost entirely to cost overruns in the Pulaski County Sheriff’s department operational budget and also the jail budget, both of which are controlled by Sheriff J.B. King.

The money will come from a special fund controlled by the Pulaski County Public Facilities Board, which maintains an interest-bearing account with money left over from a voter-approved levy issue that was approved two decades ago to build the current county courthouse. That money is supposed to be used only for courthouse maintenance and the Public Facilities Board members had asked the county to seek loans from commercial banks. County auditors had opposed that plan, and after outgoing Western District Commissioner Dennis Thornsberry questioned the legality of borrowing money from the Pulaski County Road and Bridge Department, which has a surplus, the commissioners had little choice left.

In a unanimous resolution, the commissioners approved loan conditions that include a one-year term of the loan and an interest rate equal to what would have been paid to the Public Facilities Board by the county’s regular depository banks if the money hadn’t been borrowed.

Commissioner Bill Farnham wanted to make sure the resolution would be sufficient to meet the state’s requirement that counties must have a balanced budget.

“My question is, ‘Will $150,000 be enough?’” Farnham asked. “Once we do this, we can’t very well go back if we need more.”

County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer confirmed that $150,000 will be enough to cover the deficit — this year.

Next year, however, could be an entirely different question.

“We’ll have to figure into the budget payment of interest at least,” said Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall, who noted that the loan note could be renewed and wouldn’t have to be paid in full by the end of next year.

Ransdall and Farnham were guardedly optimistic about next year’s finances.

“We never know; things in Iraq may calm down, lots of people may come back and start paying sales tax and buying houses for property tax,” Farnham said.

Ransdall noted that real estate and personal property tax won’t help.

“Sales tax will have to solve this problem; the road and bridge department with property tax is doing fine,” Ransdall said.

However, Ransdall said something must be done next year to fix the budget and noted that further budget cuts may not be enough to balance a $150,000 deficit. Budget issues will become even worse next year when the county has to pay its share of the cost to hire two additional public defenders for juvenile cases.

“It’s a bad deal; we’re going to have to address the income side of this equation,” Ransdall said. “Today is not the day, but it’s going to have to happen.”

Ransdall noted that some in the courthouse want to increase rather than cut their departmental budgets for next year.

“I have been approached by people about pay raises and offices in this building who have money to give pay raises,” Ransdall said.

That may not be possible, Farnham said, noting that even the strongest city budget in Pulaski County has issues.

“Look at what the cities are projecting,” Farnham said. “What is St. Robert projecting? A 1 percent increase?”

Thornsberry agreed.

“There are people a lot worse off than we are out there,” Thornsberry said. “You get down into Texas County and places farther south, they’re really in a world of hurt.”

Responding to questions from Ricky Zweerink, who will succeed Dennis Thornsberry next year as the Western District Commissioner, Linnenbringer said the sheriff’s department currently has five dispatchers. Zweerink asked why that number couldn’t be cut down to a single dispatcher working during daytime hours only, and have the Pulaski County 911 dispatchers handle after-hours dispatching, as is done in the cities of Waynesville, Crocker and Richland.

“We’re going to have to start somewhere, guys; I’m open to suggestions,” Zweerink said.

Zweerink asked commissioners whether they had yet received a legal opinion on whether a 2002 agreement is still binding that settled a lawsuit between former sheriff J.T. Roberts and the county commission over dispatching.

Ransdall and Linnenbringer said they’d asked for one but it had not yet been provided.

In that agreement, filed on Sept. 19, 2002, the three county commissioners at the time and the sheriff at the time dismissed various lawsuits over control of the county’s 911 system and specified that the county would provide the sheriff with “a fully equipped dispatching console, including a MULES (Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System) terminal, to be physically placed nearest the front window for utilization by sheriff’s employees for dispatching.”

Other sections of the agreement included that the county would “provide the sheriff with one additional employee for civil purposes to perform dispatching and all other services presently performed by 911 employees for the sheriff and all other services as requested by the sheriff.” The agreement also specified that the employee’s salary would be “set at $15,080.00, with benefits as provided” to all other sheriff’s employees, and that the sheriff’s court costs of more than $137,636 would be paid out of the sheriff’s civil fee fund.”

In addition to the standard release of liability and dismissals of lawsuits, all sides in the lawsuit also agreed “that no party shall claim victory in the matter or allege fault to the other,” that “the parties will state there was a mutual disagreement as to statutory authority which has been resolved in the public’s interest,” and that “the parties will utilize good faith and fair dealing to effectuate the terms of the agreement.” The court documents also include an official joint press release by the former sheriff, the county commission, the county clerk, the county treasurer and the 911 Telephone Service Board specifying that “the difference between the parties have arisen from the inherent conflicts of the statutory framework setting for their respective offices, powers and authority,” claiming that “these very statutes have been the cause of controversy with numerous counties in the state of Missouri,” and that “the parties agree that this settlement is in the best interests of all concerned and the public and will enhance the provision of emergency service and the quality of life in Pulaski County.”

Speaking after the meeting, Ransdall said he didn’t anticipate a problem paying the interest on the loan approved Monday morning, but said paying the principal balance back will be difficult.

“The principal would have to come out of one of two things as I see it — an increase in sales tax revenue based on the amount of goods purchased in Pulaski County … In the absence of any tax increases, the only way would be an increase in sales,” Ransdall said.

The county currently takes in about $2 million per year from its general fund sales tax, Ransdall said.

“It would take a 10 percent increase in sales throughout the county to cover the shortfall. It wouldn’t give us any fluff,” Ransdall said. “(That increase) would be unheard of unless there were a tremendous influx of people here.”

Local Opinion

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