Osage County commissioners on Monday decided to sign an agreement with an accounting firm to analyze Sheriff’s Office and county jail revenues and expenditures from 2017 forward, with a view toward helping the commissioners decide how to deal with a potential shortfall in the sheriff’s budget for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones, who is currently the county board’s presiding officer, put the item on the agenda. He said commissioners hope the accounting firm, Elfrink & Associates, can help them “better understand what we’re facing.” Jones said the county has already been gathering financial information with the help of one of his employees, and with assistance from Sheriff Eddie Virden’s staff.

“We don’t want to just sit back and wait on that,” Jones said regarding the potential budget shortfall. Osage County levies a 1-cent sales tax to help finance the Sheriff’s Office and the jail. Through the years, the tax reportedly generated a surplus at first, but later began to provide less revenue. For a number of years, the county used the accrued surplus to fill holes in funding for the sheriff’s operations.

The last of the surplus has been spent in the current fiscal year, however, and there will be no budget “cushion” to fill any holes for the FY 20-21 year. Commissioners and the sheriff have about four months to figure out what comes next.

In previous public remarks about the budget situation, Jones has said the budget shortfall could be as large as $900,000 to $1.2 million. Elfrink & Associates will be called upon to provide more detailed budget information and analysis. The firm has been engaged for up to $10,000 of service.

In other county business Monday, County Clerk Shelia Bellamy announced that she will be retiring this year, rather than seeking another term of office. Bellamy said she will have been county clerk for 20 years as of Aug. 1.

“I’ve enjoyed my time here,” Bellamy said. Commissioner Jones thanked her for her service to Osage County. District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney, whose relationship with Bellamy is marked by good-natured humor, smiled and quipped, “I thought you already retired.” She smiled and appeared to roll her eyes a bit.