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‘Fiscally conservative budget’ recommended for St. Charles County

A “fiscally conservative budget” that includes a modest pay increase for St. Charles County employees plus money for purchasing more park land and building improvements are among the recommendations in the proposed 2015 budget submitted Nov. 4 by County Executive Steve Ehlmann.

Ehlmann is recommending a 1 percent pay increase for all county pay grades and a 2 percent increase for all eligible county employees effective Jan. 1, 2015.

The County Council is expected to adopt a budget by Jan. 1, which is the start of the county’s fiscal year.

Ehlmann also is recommending a reclassification of one pay grade for all the county’s licensed law enforcement officers who will be part of its new county police department. The move will mean more pay for county police and help in hiring and retaining better officers, the budget message states.

Pay raises are possible because general fund revenues have “modestly improved again this year,” according to the message.

The message states that the county believes “there is a favorable likelihood that this trend will continue in 2015.”

Ehlmann’s proposed budget also “assumes no changes to current property tax rates in 2015.”

Sales tax revenue – the largest source of funding for the county’s general fund, which includes most departments – is being collected at a higher rate than the 1 percent increase anticipated in the county’s 2014 budget. The collection rate was up 6.36 percent through September.

County officials expect that 2014 sales tax revenue may exceed 2013 amounts by 3.5 percent, the message notes, and that it’s “reasonable” to expect a 2 percent increase in sales tax in 2015 over 2014.

Building permit fees also may reach $950,000 this year, up from the $935,000 budgeted.  The message suggests that in 2015, building permit fees may stay near $900,000 “to reflect a pace of construction activity throughout St. Charles County roughly equivalent to that of 2014.”

The message also notes that 2015 property tax revenues in the county’s general fund as well as its separate road and bridge, and dispatch and alarm funds are based on an estimated assessed valuation increase of 4 percent. The message adds that this increase in assessed valuation reflects a slowly improving real estate market and the fact that 2015 is a reassessment year.

Ehlmann said a modest improvement in the economy prompts him to recommend a 2015 budget reflecting $63.5 million in revenue, and expenditures of $72.5 million for the general fund. The general fund recommendation reflects revenues as well as emergency reserve funding and the re-appropriation of some 2014 projects to be completed in 2015. The projected general fund balance in 2015 could by $6.35 million, according to Ehlmann’s message.

Other proposed expenditures recommended for separate funds include $23.9 million from the county road and bridge fund, $60.5 million from the transportation fund, $19.1 million from the parks and recreation fund, and $21.9 million from the capital improvements fund.

The message states that the voter-approved upgrade of the emergency radio system, which includes new communications towers, is expected to be operating in 2015. Therefore, the  budget includes $14.5 million in final payments for the upgraded system.

Ehlmann also is recommending the appropriation of $594,000 for renovations to the county Justice Center, $200,000 for additional space at the county’s pet adoption center, and $6.2 million in “core funding” to begin the process of putting aside money for an emergency operations center at the site of the sheriff’s department office in O’Fallon.  The county’s new 911 system also is expected to be fully installed in 2015.

Ehlmann’s budget suggestions propose $3 million from the park and recreation fund for the purchase of park property, as well as $9.8 million in park and recreation funds to pay for improvements and amenities, including for land held in reserve and the newly acquired 116-acre tract between Kisker and Pitman Hill roads. The county now has about 3,150 acres of park property.

Expenditures from transportation funding are included in the design and construction of about 53 different road improvement projects. Another $1.7 million would go for asphalt overlays and asphalt and concrete street reconstruction, slab replacement and crack sealing of county roads.

Public hearings are expected to be held on the budget in December.

 

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