Treasurer says investments affected by crisis

Robert Smith

County Treasurer Sally Hulse on Monday told Osage County commissioners that financial stresses are about to make it more difficult to profitably invest the county’s money.

Interest rates have plunged to nearly zero since the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis in the U.S., and Hulse said that certificates of deposit in which several million dollars of county funds are invested will be maturing this month and in June. The problem is that the interest rates that will be available for the money going forward are considerably less attractive, Hulse explained.

“I just wanted you gentlemen to be aware it’s going to be a big drop,” Hulse said.

Hulse also obtained permission Monday from the commissioners to cancel the annual property resale, which had been scheduled for June 8. Hulse told the Journal-Capital she intends to combine the 2020 resale with the 2021 resale, in June of 2021. These sales are events where the county sells properties on which owners have failed to pay their taxes.

These moves reflect both her concern regarding the unsafe conditions that could be created if she tried to hold a property sale a little less than a month from now, and her concern that county commissioners should understand that the COVID-19 pandemic is having negative effects on their ability to generate income.

County Clerk Shelia Bellamy, who is retiring this year, commented Monday that the county’s general fund is doing OK for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, but she said prospects for next year are uncertain.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen next year; what we’re going to need,” Bellamy said.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit the U.S. in earnest, Osage County officials were uneasy about Fiscal Year 2021. The commissioners have retained a consulting firm to examine several years of county financial data and help provide budget advice.

There is particular anxiety about how to finance the sheriff’s department and the jail, now that the last portion of a financial reserve the county had been using to patch the sheriff’s budget every fiscal year has been used up.

What the commissioners did seem to feel sufficiently comfortable with Monday was deciding to hold a Countywide Free Dump Day on June 13, to allow everyone to get rid of their surplus of unwanted items.

“We’re picking up a lot out of the road,” District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones said.