County budget

The Buchanan County Commission approved its fiscal 2020 budget on Monday morning following a final public hearing. Commissioners said the new budget reflects increases in employee health insurance and ongoing payments by the county to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for levee repairs.

Buchanan County’s fiscal 2020 budget contains hopes for the future set against caution reflected in higher costs for health insurance and ongoing levee payments.

The Buchanan County Commission approved the document in its regular session Monday morning at the courthouse, following a required final public hearing for the $63 million balanced budget. Presiding Commissioner Lee Sawyer said the budget includes higher costs for health insurance.

“And we just had a lot of claims,” Sawyer said, adding the health insurance price tag was $480,000 higher than what the county experienced in 2018. Eastern District Commissioner Scott Burnham said the decision was made to go to a deductible that’s $2,800 higher in light of the jump in claims coming from employees. Western District Commissioner Ron Hook said the sheriff’s budget was increased to account for health insurance hikes for that staff.

“He budgeted to be fully staffed, which he isn’t right now,” Sawyer said, referring to Sheriff Bill Puett. The Sheriff’s Department also will be adding several vehicles.

“We purchased three vehicles for the assessor’s office,” Sawyer said. “They (current fleet) were just worn out.”

Those vehicles are “hand-me-downs” that were once used by the sheriff’s office.

County Auditor Tara Horn said several payments remain this year to complete the 2019 upgrade to the Sheriff’s Department communications system.

The newly minted budget is carrying over $7 million that the county had planned to pay to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year for a project to raise the levee repairs.

“That payment will be made in midyear ... and this has a Dec. 31, 2020, sunset clause,” said the commission’s budget message. Dirt for the levee repairs is due to arrive by mid-year, although the work is due to linger into 2021.

The budget message also contains notes of optimism, despite the rising costs. County officeholders and department heads were credited for their cooperation in developing what the commission terms “a sound budget.”

“There are a lot of needs and challenges within Buchanan County,” the commission stated. “However, we are confident in the future of our county. It has been a thorough process.”

Ray Scherer can be reached

at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.