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News covering policy and issues related to city and county governments in the Ozarks.

Bengsch: New Budget Proves Fears of Failure to Pass Use Tax

Scott Harvey
Under the new budget, the Greene County Health Department's Vaccine Immunization Program will be cut by nearly $78,000/Credit:

Upon finalizing the 2014 budget Friday, Greene County officials say they’ve managed to avoid cutting nearly 20 jobs that were originally on the chopping block. However, eight will be eliminated as part of $1.1 million in budget reductions.  KSMU’s Scott Harvey has more.

Greene County Commissioner Harold Bengsch says they were able to preserve some essential positions by moving them into other areas, including the recent law enforcement sales tax fund.

But he says the public will feel the impact, noting budget cuts of nearly 25 percent in some departments since 2008.

“Up to this point and time, because we’ve got very dedicated employees, they have done double duty – many of them. And trying to serve the public in a manner that the reductions are not noticeable, we can no longer do that,” Bengsch said.

Items eliminated in the 2014 budget include two, one half time positions in the Treasurer’s Office, one part time position in the Recorder’s Office, early retirement and 50 percent reduction in County Administrator pay, two positions in Planning and Building services, one part time court security officer, and one administrative clerk in Building Operations.

Close to $78,000 will be removed from the Health Department’s Vaccine Immunization Program, which could impose a fee on families residing outside Springfield needing immunizations.

The department’s Mike Brothers says while flu vaccines are generally free thanks to grants and federal dollars, he fears that fees on other voluntary immunizations will deter consumers and bring down the immunization rate.

“It’s difficult to tell what the effect would be, but anytime that you’re sort of weakening that invisible blanket of protection that we all have thanks to immunizations, you give diseases a greater chance to spread and thrive,” Brothers said.

He adds that required immunizations such as entering children in school could add an extra burden on area families with tight budgets.

Greene County had hoped to avoid certain cuts in the 2014 budget with passage of a use tax, which was projected to bring $3 million in revenue to the county’s general fund. But 56 percent of voters said no to the tax on Nov. 5. Commissioner Bengsch says fears of what would happen should the proposition fail will now become reality.

“We had a lot of people say, ‘avoid telling people how bad it’s going to be because you’ll just be accused of trying to scare the people to vote for the use tax.’ Maybe that was a mistake on our part in not telling people how bad this was going to be.”

Overcrowding in the Greene County Jail, one of the biggest concerns, could continue to cost the county. With an average population of 600, 80 more than capacity, the county is forced to pay other county jails to house inmates elsewhere.  If the current high inmate population levels persist, it could cost the county an additional $500,000 or more in 2014.

The county says offices and departments are currently reviewing how operations will be affected next year. They’re advising builders and developers to anticipate delays in permit issuances and in inspections due to the shortage of staff. Reduced business hours may be anticipated in other offices.