Washington County reserve shrinks as leftover money fails to meet projection

Posted: March 7, 2018 at 1:07 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County's reserve shrank again after the amount of money left unspent last year failed to meet expectation.

"Unless we get some good news in some direction, our reserves are going to shrink a little more," said Justice of the Peace Butch Pond, a Republican representing eastern Washington County.

In other business

The Finance and Budget Committee approved Tuesday requests to increase pay for two positions, including paying about $1,700 more this year for a environmental officer and about $2,100 more for a juvenile officer.

Source: Staff report

The committee approved Tuesday its annual ordinance to settle accounts for 2017.

Unappropriated reserve is at $4.2 million, down from the anticipated $4.8 million, Treasurer Bobby Hill said. Carryover money from the end of last year was down $598,000 from the expected $12.8 million, putting carryover at $12.2 million instead, he said.

County departments returned about $844,000 to the general fund, but about $1.6 million must be paid out for 2017 bills, the ordinance shows. Much of that is from personnel costs, Comptroller Ashley Farber said.

Partly, the shortfall in carryover is from unpaid property taxes and unexpected bills, Hill said. For example, a line item for communication equipment had a roughly $100,000 bill at the end of the year that wasn't expected at the Treasurer's Office, he said.

Even so, county finances will balance out by the end of the year and are stable, said Justice of the Peace Bill Ussery, a Republican representing northeastern Springdale. The shortfall in carryover won't significantly impact this year's budget either, he said.

Ussery is chairman of the Finance Committee.

Pond said he's concerned. The county continues to face a $5 million shortfall between expected revenue and budgeted expenditures of about $68 million, records show. Hill said the county typically doesn't spend all of the money budgeted each year.

"You've got that gap, but [departments] aren't going to spend their budgets in most cases," Hill said.

The official amounts for what was spent per department last year won't be available until after the Quorum Court approves the ordinance March 15, Farber said.

Expenses not budgeted are coming in for this year already, records show.

The county has transferred about $410,000 to cover costs at the jail so far this year, Farber said. Since 2011, the county has transferred $5.6 million from the general fund to the jail, Hill said.

About $256,000 in what could have been carryover went to the jail for 2017, according to the ordinance.

Ussery said earlier this week he has started meeting with officials to talk about the 2019 budget. The Quorum Court must approve its 2019 budget by the end of the year.

"It looks like our work is cut out for us this year as far as the budget goes," Ussery said.

NW News on 03/07/2018