In May, a Barton County Commission frustrated with delays in getting tax roll and bank account reconciliations from the County Treasurer’s Office and worried about delays in preparing the 2015 county budget hired an outside company to help balance the books.
As of Wednesday, Barton County Administrator Richard Boeckman was “cautiously optimistic” that a budget would be ready on time. “I told the department heads this should look like any other budget year.”
The county contracted with Computer Information Concepts to clear up the reconciliations for a cost of up to $20,000. CIC is the company from which Barton County purchased its new county-wide bookkeeping system.
“I visit with CIC everyday,” Boeckman said. “They are making progress.”
To produce a budget, county officials need total expenditures from the previous year and expected revenue for the coming year.
The hang ups are tax rolls and county bank accounts that have not been reconciled by the County Treasurer’s Office. Without these figures, Adams, Brown, Beran and Ball can’t finish its work, work the auditors have until July 1 to complete.
What the lack of these numbers means is that the county’s total revenue and total expenditures cannot be determined. These are necessary to come up with the amount of cash the county will carry over into the following year, figures needed to determine the mill levy.
Without the mill levy, there can be no budget.
Tax roll reconciliation involves making sure all the adjustments made to incoming taxes (in the form of abatements, refunds, and added and escaped taxes) balances with the money in the county’s tax fund. This was a difficult year for officials in that they started the tax season with one software system and concluded with a new one.
The tax rolls in question have been unresolved since late last year and are for taxes from 2012.
The banking issue involves a series of accounts at one local banking institution. Some of these have not been balanced since April 2013.
Boeckman said the county’s budget-planning process begins with a series of meetings with department heads, elected officials and outside agencies this month. He will collect their wish lists to determine the total expenditure request for 2015.
A possible reprieve
As long as the final reconciliation numbers are available by the first part of July, Boeckman said the county would be fine. However, later than that, then a budget extension may be necessary.
What is an extension? Barton County Clerk Donna Zimmerman said her office that handles these.
Periodically, she said, entities can’t meet their budget deadlines. So, they forward an extension request and budget documents to the county clerk who approves the change.
This is not uncommon and the approval is pretty much a given, Zimmerman said. She does send the information to the state just to keep officials in the loop.
Normally, the county wraps up its budget by the first meeting in August, Boeckman said. The process could drag on to the end of the month without the need for an extension.
The additional time granted usually amounts to about a week or two.
However, Zimmerman said, time does become a factor. There is a set-in-stone Nov. 1 deadline by which she has to have all of her numbers submitted to the state.
Before this can happen, her staff has a lot of work to accomplish compiling data and reports. So, they have to have enough time to get this done within that time limit.
Should the Commission not be able to meet its requirement by the mandated deadline, the county would be out of compliance with state statutes.
Among other things, the reconciliation delays meant Jan. 20 tax distributions were late getting out, constituting a statute violation that auditors will have to report.
State law mandates five such distributions per year – Jan. 20, March 20, June 5, Sept. 20 and Oct. 31, Zimmerman said. The June 5 installment is due out today and it will come to pass. CIC balanced the current tax roll, paving the way for the distribution to be posted and paid on time.
But, again, there is a caveat, she said.
Up until Jan. 1 of this year, large commercial vehicles were included under personal property when it comes to taxation. Now, they are handled as vehicles through the Treasurer’s Office and should be included in a vehicle distribution.
Each disbursement is now made up of property taxes, motor vehicle taxes, recreational vehicle taxes and commercial vehicle taxes, and here lies the rub. Zimmerman is not sure the commercial vehicle portion is included in the June 5 payment, which would constitute another violation.
Not all of taxes impact every entity, but Zimmerman doesn’t want the county to not distribute everyone’s fair share.
A ripple effect
The county is not the only governing body impacted.
As for the city’s budget, “we’re just charging ahead,” City Administrator Howard Partington said. Starting next week, city officials have a series of budget-planning events scheduled and they will go on regardless of what happens at the courthouse.
These culminate with a budget hearing in August.
There is a statutory requirement that the county have property and motor vehicle tax estimates to other governmental entities by July 1, and Partington expects to receive those numbers in time. But, where as the city needs those numbers eventually, its number crunchers can fill in their blanks based on the numbers from previous years since they don’t fluctuate much.
Property-related taxes account for 21 percent of the city’s budget. “It’s an important piece,” Partington said.
The county distributes these funds five times per year, and again Partington hopes there is not delay. The city does have reserves that can cover temporary shortfalls.
Unified School District 428 Director of Finance and Operations Khris Thexton was breathing a little easier Wednesday. That’s when its final property tax payment of $2 million arrived from the county.
He needed the money by June 9 for his report to the Kansas State Department of Education so he could show the total local fiscal support. The state then uses these figures to calculate and adjust state financial aid for the upcoming year.
Minus that last check, the district could have risked losing some of its state funding.