Excise Board approves General Fund, loses member

Excise Board member J. Berry Harrison, of Fairfax, has died at age 81

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Osage County Excise Board on Oct. 22 approved a General Fund budget for fiscal year 2020-21 that calls for more than $1 million less of spending than the 2019-20 General Fund budget.

With minor adjustments agreed upon last Thursday, the Excise Board approved a General Fund budget of slightly more than $7.754 million for 2020-21, down from a General Fund budget for 2019-20 of just under $9 million.

Budget advisory personnel on-hand Thursday (county officials commonly refer to them as "the budget makers") said Osage County would have a carryover of about $1.679 million more than will be necessary to make good on the new budget.

Excise Board members Ben West and Mike Hayman gave approval to the financial plan, and County Clerk Shelia Bellamy commented that the third member of the board -- former state Sen. J. Berry Harrison of Fairfax -- had recently died.

Harrison, who was 81, died Oct. 21. Hunsaker-Wooten Funeral Home is handling his arrangements. Bellamy noted that Harrison was from Osage County District 3, so it will fall to Commissioner Darren McKinney to put forward a replacement for Harrison on the Excise Board.

Bellamy told the Journal-Capital that she had submitted documentation on Oct. 21 for reimbursement under the terms of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for about $1.5 million of county expenses. The county commissioners have designated those funds, when reimbursed, to be placed into accounts from which they were spent, or into a county CARES Relief Fund.

The CARES Act reimbursement funds will form yet another element of the overall county financial picture, as Osage County government continues to sail the uncharted seas of the COVID-19 era. The county will also transition in terms of personnel, as Bellamy retires at the end of calendar year 2020 and Robin Slack takes over as the new county clerk.

There is also still the matter of what the Excise Board will do regarding the sales tax revenues that help to finance the Sheriff's Office and the county correctional center.

When it comes to the General Fund, the Sheriff's Office has been approved for its entire request, which was $999,687.42; however, the sales tax portion of the finances of the Sheriff's Office and the correctional center includes an overall request of about $4.428 million for fiscal year 2020-21.

Revenues generated by the Sheriff's Office/Jail sales tax vary slightly, with figures on County Clerk's Office paperwork ranging from about $275,000 to $300,000 in the three months from July through September 2020, and Sheriff Eddie Virden has said he anticipates the sales tax will not generate all the funding that has been requested.

Bellamy had encouraged the Excise Board to wait until the "budget makers" provided their input on the county fiscal picture before attempting to act on the Sheriff's Office/Jail financial situation.