COVID-19 effect will be felt in budgets

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

The economic fallout from COVID-19 will affect government budgets that rely on tax revenue.

“We were very much aware of that, and we are concerned,” Dubois County Council President Jerry Hunefeld said. “It’s not just a one-year concern. In fact, we are already looking at what’s going to happen in 2022.”

Those who are working on budgets say that while they work on 2021 budgeting, they must also be aware of funding for the following year.

“Like the other government entities, we are expecting some sort of impact. But 2021 is not our biggest concern,” said Library Director Christine Golden, who prepares the budgets for the Jasper Library and county contractual libraries. “It would be probably more down the line, in 2022 and 2023, where we will see a big impact.”

The main revenue source of budgets come from property taxes, which stayed pretty steady. But the revenue that comes from income taxes may take a hit, as people lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and unemployment spiked. That affects the local income tax (LIT) fund and, for the county, the new correctional and rehabilitation facilities (C&R) fund, which was established to help pay for the new justice center.

That is why the county council paused the funding for the justice center project. “I felt very comfortable about our place financially, prior to the COVID-19, with the funding of the justice center,” Hunefeld said. “Everything was on track that we’re going to be able to fund what the commissioners were looking at building. Well, until [COVID-19] kind of put us back to square one.”

The employment numbers have improved according to the unemployment report released a few days ago. “That showed a good improvement,” Hunefeld said.

But the council is still holding off on the funding.

Funding from the LIT fund tends to be used for extra projects or to help out the general budget. Because the amount of that revenue is expected to decrease and entities don’t know what kind of impact will be felt on future budgets, they are now working on tightening the 2021 budget.

“That’s been on our minds for a long time,” Huntingburg Clerk-Treasurer Tom Dippel said. “All the superintendents are looking at their budgets to see if they can put off any projects or purchases.”

Jasper is looking to keep its budget at the same amounts as last year or possibly less, Clerk-Treasurer Allen Seifert said.

“We haven’t gotten any definite information from the state yet,” he said. “We know it will be a shortfall from last year or even with last year. There won’t be anything more.”

The county council is already directing county departments to figure into the 2021 budget a 1.5% increase in wages, which Hunefeld said is less than the 2020 increase. “Hopefully, we will be able to afford that,” he said, “because we don’t really know any early numbers yet as to what our projected revenue will be. We cut back this year hoping that even though it’s a small raise this year, maybe we can eke out another small raise next year.”

Budgets that rely on revenue from the gasoline tax will also see a hit. That includes street and highway department budgets that rely on the motor, vehicle, highway fund (MVH).

“Earlier in the year I was, I was kind of guessing that we were going to see a couple hundred thousand dollar shortfall, and it kind of looks like it might be that way,” County Highway Superintendent Steve Berg said. “I think right about now we’re in the $96,000 range.”

The revenue from gas taxes comes to the department monthly. So future months will also be shortfalls, Berg expects. The state told him that he can expect about an 18% decrease in funding.

He is working on doing the necessary road paving and repair work. But he’s holding off on projects and equipment purchases that aren’t necessary.

“We’ve put that on hold,” he said. “We have a broken down dump bed and a boom mower that conked out on me. There are places in the budget where we can get money, but I don’t want to get ourselves in a real big pinch down the road.”

The Huntingburg Street Department is also tightening its budget, as it expects to see a decrease in state funding. “This June’s MVH payment was 31% less than what it was last June,” Dippel said. “What we’re hearing is that we should figure getting 80% [of what was received last year] going forward.”

Entities will learn later this year how funding will shape up for 2021. But they all must work on budgets now.

“Sometimes things get really tight and frustrating and you don’t really know where to go,” Hunefeld said. “So, it’s turned into a real struggle.”




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