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story.lead_photo.caption Flags flutter in strong winds Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, at the Cole County Courthouse in Jefferson City. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

The Cole County Commission on Tuesday got its first look at the county auditor's proposed 2019 budget, which would grow by nearly $5 million compared to 2018.

The 2019 budget would be $88.4 million, which includes money carried forward from 2018. The 2018 budget was $83.6 million.

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Cole County Auditor Kristen Berhorst said she's projecting little, if any, growth in revenue from sales tax collections for the 2019 budget.

Almost two-thirds (65.8 percent) of the county's revenue will come from some type of tax. Overall tax revenue is projected to increase approximately $215,000 in 2019, compared to 2018. More than 43 percent of the tax revenue is from sales tax. It is projected to be essentially flat for 2019.

The Cole County Sheriff and Cole County Ambulance Service got salary increases earlier this year, and those will be included in the 2019 budget.

In August, new salary ranges for ambulance personnel were approved by the commission. For paramedics, the starting salary went to $47,500 with a maximum of $57,500. For EMTs and dispatchers, the starting salary will be $31,000 with a maximum of $39,000. The commission also approved going back to 24-hour shifts, instead of 12-hour shifts, as a way to reduce the overtime costs for the service. They also approved adding six new personnel for the service, bringing the full-time ambulance staff to 58. All those changes cost $509,000 for 2019.

In September, the commission approved Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler's request to increase Sheriff's Department salaries. The starting pay for a jailer went from $29,000 to $30,300 and $35,000 to $37,000 for a starting road deputy.

A total of 113 employee positions — 89 full time and 24 part time — were affected by the raises, expected to cost $190,000 for 2019.

For all other county employees, Berhorst said, there would be a flat $520 cost of living adjustment and there are some salary adjustment proposals so those who have worked for the county for a long time aren't at the starting salary level.

Berhort added the proposed budget does not have a merit pool, which is a reserve account to give merit raises.

"We just don't have the money to do the merit this year," Berhorst said. "The county though will continue to pay for health and dental coverage for employees."

As part of the plan, no one in the ambulance or sheriff's departments will receive a cost-of-living or merit increase if the commission approves the funds for those for 2019.

Potential county facility upgrade projects listed by county Facilities Manager Greg Camp include $100,000 for sidewalk handrail repairs and landscaping at the courthouse. There's also a request for an elevator upgrade at the courthouse, costing an estimated $260,000 and replacing the HVAC system at the courthouse annex for $650,000.

The money for repairs and upgrades at county facilities comes from the county's half-cent sales tax. The sales tax is split with 15 percent of the money collected going for work at county facilities and the other 85 percent to roads and bridges.

During Tuesday's meeting, commissioners briefly discussed some of the facility issues the county will be facing in 2019.

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Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle said he hoped to move quickly on what to do with the old county health department building on Industrial Drive. Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman said he believes the county has no use for the building so he'd be in favor of trying to sell it.

Scheperle also said they'll need to start thinking about a place to put a new associate circuit judge for the county. The Legislature approved the position, which calls for an election in 2020 and the judge to start work in 2021.

Bushman said they had talked with Jefferson City about using the new municipal courtroom on Monroe Street, and he had also talked with officials at the federal courthouse on Lafayette Street about using one of their courtrooms. Federal officials said it would cost $4,000 a day to use one of the federal courtrooms.

The commissioners will consider using space left in the old county jail at the rear of the courthouse. Scheperle suggested county staff consult with their economic development firm, Victory Enterprises/Strategic Capitol Consulting, about lobbying for state funds to help the county pay for the courtroom work.

The commission plans to discuss budgets with elected officials and department heads Dec. 4, as well as hold budget meetings after that date. Final approval of the budget by the commission must be given by Jan. 10.

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