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County budget picture rosy, thanks to oil, gas industry

By Carol McIntire

Carroll County Auditor E. Leroy VanHorne and County Commissioner President Jeff Ohler are painting a very rosy picture for the county’s finances in 2013.

Ohler said commissioners have met with all county officials whose departments are funded by the general fund to receive their requests for 2013 and planned to have the budget finalized by their Dec. 31 meeting.

“We still have some fine tuning to do, but I see no reason why we can’t have it finalized by Monday (Dec. 31),” Ohler said Friday.

He said requests total $6.75 million. Van Horne said he is conservatively projecting just over $7 million in revenue in 2013.

“With that figure, we shouldn’t have any trouble meeting the budget requests of office holders,” Ohler stated.

The county’s budget totaled $5.9 million.

Commissioners did not ask VanHorne to recertify the county’s funds when the anticipated income level was reached in 2012, thus the county has a large carryover into the new year – about $1.6 million.

Asked where the extra money came from, VanHorne replied, “it’s ours thanks to the oil and gas industry.”

Sales tax receipts for the first 10 months of 2012 were up $542,306.99 over the previous year and totaled $2,181,024.48.

“The landsmen were here in full force,” he said. “They stayed in hotels,  ate in restaurants and spent money in county businesses. The last couple months, they have moved on to other counties and I saw a drop in the collection for the last month, which tells me they were a big part of the increase.”

He said another source of funds for the carryover is county residents who have sold all or part of their mineral rights.

“These people pay a conveyance fee just as you do when you sell real estate,” he explained. “We received a lot of money we didn’t anticipate from that and the county recorder’s office took in double what we estimated for filing fees.”

Ohler said one of the single largest increase in budgets came from the Department of Job and Family Services.

“The county is mandated to pay for certain expenses related to childcare so we have no choice,” Ohler stated. “That line in their budget increased from $60,000 to $212,000.”

Another increase is in the Sheriff’s Department budget.

“The sheriff has additional men on the road because of the increased traffic due to the oil and gas industry so there are additional costs for fuel and related items,” Ohler said. “The sheriff also lost one of his grants that paid the salary of a deputy so we are being asked to pick that up. Also, the 911 funds generated by a charge on landline phones previously paid for two deputies. That fund is dwindling and now only pays for the salary of one person.”

Even with the additional funds, Ohler said commissioners must be cautious.

“Our biggest challenge is to be careful not to create additional reoccurring expenses in case revenue goes flat this year.

We hope to be able to meet our expenses this year and still have a carryover at the end of the year,” he said.

Major repairs the past couple years forced commissioners to dip into the oil and gas lease signing bonus; money they set aside for permanent improvement projects.

“We are hoping those are behind us and we want to stay away from that fund unless it is an emergency.”

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