Commissioners eye county’s financial needs

Robert Smith

County commissioners heard Monday from the executive director of Youth Services of Osage County, Inc. that she anticipates a $100,000 budget shortfall for the fiscal year that just began July 1.

Amanda Howerton, executive director of Youth Services, asked the county board to consider entering into a $100,000 contractual agreement to support two shelter beds. That support would provide slightly in excess of $101,000 in revenue and make the agency’s budget for 2020-21 work, she said.

Howerton told the commissioners that her budget for 20-21, which is some $439,000, is not larger than her 2019-20 budget. She also pledged to provide commissioners with budget details needed for them to evaluate her request. One of the three county board members — District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney of Fairfax — was absent Monday. He was represented during the board’s weekly meeting by Ted Smith, a deputy commissioner, but McKinney did not have an opportunity to hear and ask questions about Howerton’s presentation.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones noted that the county is facing several budget challenges as it begins the new fiscal year. County fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30. The county retained a consulting firm to review several years of budget documents and make recommendations regarding potential adjustments.

“This has been a tough time for us. We would sure like to help,” Jones told Howerton. “This is something we really need to help with.”

Jones also acknowledged that the Sheriff’s Office budget is an area where the county is facing a particularly tough budgetary challenge. In previous years, county government has used an accumulated surplus of sales tax funds to help cover any shortfalls in the Sheriff’s Office budget, but that surplus sales tax money has been completely spent.

“Everybody’s been trying to cut and save where we can,” Jones said, adding that he didn’t want to see Youth Services “fall through the cracks.”

Another potential financial challenge that county commissioners eyeballed Monday was the possibility they could have to pay penalties if they were to enter into a contract for a carnival to be held in September at the county fairgrounds, in conjunction with the Osage County Free Fair, and if they subsequently had to cancel the carnival because of concerns about COVID-19. Jones said he would like to avoid being billed for penalties of any kind. The discussion of the possible carnival arrangements will likely continue, with more information being provided to county officials.