Fiscal court OKs $48.5 million budget on first reading

Warren Fiscal Court approved Friday on first reading a 2020-21 fiscal year budget of $48.5 million that projects no tax increase and includes a hefty boost to the county’s contingency fund as a hedge against uncertainties created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is an increase of about $4.5 million from the current fiscal year budget, but Treasurer Greg Burrell said the increase is due mostly to that contingency fund.

Burrell said he included $6 million in the contingency fund – a significant increase from the $750,000 to $1 million that is typically included – largely because much of the effects of the coronavirus shutdowns are still unknown.

“It’s just a reserve fund to be able to transfer money out of when we have shortfalls in other areas or overruns in COVID-19 expenses,” Burrell said.

Having the reserve fund can also allow fiscal court to avoid doing a budget amendment when the county receives funding expected from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Burrell said.

Burrell said coronavirus-related expenses have reached $200,000 and continue to mount as the county spends more for such items as sanitizer, thermometers, testing, extra cleaning and overtime for emergency management and the sheriff’s office.

Making a projection about revenue and expenses was unusually difficult this year because of the disruptions caused by the coronavirus, Burrell said.

“We don’t know the impact yet,” he said. “We won’t see how it affects the occupational tax until July, but we’re expecting a significant drop in occupational tax revenue and hotel tax revenue.”

Burrell said property tax revenue, which makes up more than half of the county’s total budget, should not see an immediate decrease.

“But there could be an impact on property values two or three years down the road,” he said.

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