By Mark Vasto
In one of the more tumultuous budgeting processes in recent history, Platte County approved Friday morning the 2010 budget, as The Luminary went to press.
The 257-page document features more than 7,000 line items and its general fund portion weighs in $244,000 lighter than the 2009 budget. The entire general fund comes to $18,085,098 and required a $1.2 million cash carryover from the previous year in order to balance.
The budget process, in normal years a tough enough process fraught with political wrangling and peril – budget disputes and projections have historically led to repercussions at the ballot box, as in 2004 when the Republican party all but revolted against incumbent Republican commissioners Steve Wegner and Michael Short, leading to their surprise upsets at the polls.
This years budget featured the ongoing drama between the auditor’s office and the Platte County Commission.
Platte County Auditor Siobhann Williams was criticized by the Commission when her first recommended budget included a two percent pay raise for staff and counted on a three percent projected rise in sales tax – the principal funding engine for Platte County since property tax rates stand at $0.02 per $100 of assessed value. Williams was also criticized for holding a press conference detailing alleged mistakes in the County’s Human Resources Department. The allegation, over benefits paid to a deceased employee was later found to be untrue by and independent auditing firm but it did lead to the demotion of then HR director Leanna Fannon.
The situation took another dramatic turn when the independent auditor was hired to replace Fannon at the position and Fannon filed a sexual harassment charge against Williams. That case has yet to be decided by the Missouri Ethics Commission and Williams vehemently denies the allegations.
A feud between First District Commissioner Kathy Dusenbery and Williams bubbled to the surface as well. Dusenbery openly complained of Williams lack of attendance at budget meetings, criticizing her “lack of team behavior.”
On Friday, Dusenbery told The Luminary that in the end, the County came through with a strong budget despite the difficulties.
“The commissioners took charge of this budget, we took it apart, line item by line item and put the time in to rebuild this budget with conservative revenue [projections], “ Dusenbery said.”Yet we did not cut salaries, suffer any layoffs or come to any conclusion that we should raise property taxes.”
Dusenbery said she was particularly proud that the Commission was able to budget for an additional four Sheriff’s deputies. Sheriff Richard Anderson has called for the addition of seven deputies to reach proper staffing levels.
Dusenbery credited efficiency among County staffers, saying that the $1.2 million cash carryover.
“You have to remember that when Siobhann put this budget together she had a 3 percent increase in sales tax and we took it and made it zero,” Dusenbery said.
Williams, for her part, said she was surprised at the controversy, saying she was only doing her job.
“The Auditors office monitors 100,000 transactions over 4,000 accounts,” she said before adding, tongue in cheek, “We actually do do work over here.”