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County revenues for 1st quarter appear steady
2nd quarter property tax figures will be crucial
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The Newton County Board of Commissioners had their first quarterly financial review Tuesday and the collection figures were better than last year, but the second quarter will be more telling because that’s when the county will begin to collect property taxes.

The BOC requested the quarterly reports because they are closely watching the budget after finding out in July that the county would be receiving $929,000 less than they expected. In July the tax assessor’s office discovered an error in its records caused by the transfer of those records to a new software system, which resulted in the county’s taxable property digest being inflated by $85 million.

At the Aug. 18 BOC meeting, County Administrative Assistant John Middleton presented cuts that could be made to offset the $929,000 deficit, but the finance staff and Chairman Kathy Morgan suggested waiting to see how the revenue came in before making any further cuts. This spring the BOC cut around $8 million and 16.5 jobs from its projected FY2010 budget to balance its $48.4 million in expected revenues.

Overall, in the first quarter, from July 1 to Sept. 30, the county gathered $4.75 million, around $355,000 more than last year. However, the second and third quarters will be crucial because that is when property taxes are collected and the bulk of the revenue is collected during those quarters.

The county spent $10.43 million during the first quarter, but its expenditures are generally much more consistent per quarter than its revenues, so that nearly $6 million difference is made up during the rest of the year.

Despite being higher than the last year, first quarter collections were actually $390,522 less than it anticipated, but during the work session the finance staff said this difference was within expected levels. The county actually spent $1.44 million less than it anticipated. However, Morgan said this savings was mainly due to the fact that expenses vary somewhat from quarter to quarter, but she did say the county is watching every dollar that is spent.

"We have tightened control and it’s not always easy, but everything that comes through the county we make sure we need it. Things that normally would go through and have been approved are being literally taken to everybody and double-checked," Morgan said. "In years past the county had $500,000 or $1 million in wiggle room, because they would leave some extra projects until the last quarter. We don’t have that extra money to play with."

Morgan said the extra costs to repair roads damaged by the flooding could be a concern, which is the why the county is working to obtain FEMA funding. She said right now the budget appears OK, but if any other natural disasters occur, the county will likely have to cut further.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz expressed concern about decreased sales tax due to the flooding, but the finance staff said the results had not been determined. Local Option Sales Tax numbers were around $620,000 per month for the first quarter, up from most of last year.

Morgan said it’s important for those numbers to stay above $600,000 per month, and it’s important for property tax collections to stay at a high rate. Tax Commissioner Barbara Dingler usually collects around 98 percent of the taxes owed, a high percentage, but if the economy affects that the county will have to reevaluate.

The second quarter financial report will be provided in January.