JEFFERSON CO. (WSIL) — Jefferson County faces serious financial issues as the board starts negotiating a budget for next year.
The board made a move to use some sales tax money to cover some of the issues but there’s still more ground to cover.
County Treasurer Bob Watt said officials are about $981,000 in the hole through a combination of debt from last year’s budget, unpaid bills this year and some borrowing between different county funds.
Watt said the board has some tough decisions to make.
"There just isn’t any fat there left to trim," Watt said. "How are we going to pay bills, pay salaries, pay insurance and keep operating without going into the red?"
Watt said there’s going to be about $535,000 available by the end of the year from the county’s public safety sales tax fund.
Voters approved the tax in 2014 and it covers two things: bond payments for the Jefferson County Justice Center and the salaries of Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies who were previously laid off.
Watt said as long as the money goes to the sheriff’s office and the jail, the money will still be used for public safety reasons, but it also allows the county to free up more money from other sources.
He said recent settlements with unions and healthcare costs have contributed significantly to the county’s financial problems.
"The reality is there’s going to have to be some additional revenue coming somewhere along the way," Watt said. "We had our pockets picked by the state just recently."
He’s talking about a new state law that prohibits the county from collecting court fees.
"That alone is going to put a hole in our budget of, were estimating, $200,000-to-$300,000 a year," Watt said. "We don’t have another source to make that up. They take it away with no option to replace it."
County Board chairman Cliff Lindemann said the hit comes at the worst time: just as the board is trying to figure out a budget.
"There’s no good way to recoup that money short of raising taxes or laying people off and that is the last thing we want to do," Lindemann said.
He said the county will try to cut costs where they can but there’s nothing big the board can cut anymore.