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County Auditor Kristin Berhorst is happy to "eat some crow" in regards to the county's financial state.

In April, Berhorst cautioned county officials to be mindful of their spending during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After getting sales tax figures for May, Berhorst said, "I'm happy to eat some crow on this."

The May sales tax collection figures show collections were up 20 percent from last May's figures. For the year, sales tax collections are up 7 percent.

Back in April, Berhorst said the county expected to see a drop in sales tax revenues due to many businesses having to shut down or greatly reduce operations because of the pandemic; the message to county staff was to reduce or stop spending when possible.

"There is a two-month lag in receiving sales tax dollars," Berhorst said. "Businesses complete their sales tax calculations for the month and then turn that over to the state. Then the Department of Revenue calculates and distributes to each political entity their portion of sales tax dollars. So that's about a two-month period. What we got in sales tax dollars in July was actually from May's revenues."

Berhorst said there was an assumption that more people were shopping online.

"We don't always see that sales tax come through to us, depending on the company who you're buying from," Berhorst said. "We thought with lots of businesses closing during the first part of the pandemic that would lead to more shopping online than normal. That would have led our figures to be way down, but that didn't happen."

In January, the County Commission approved an $88.8 million budget.

The county's three half-cent sales taxes (capital improvements, law enforcement and EMS) brought in $19.5 million by the end of 2019, Berhorst said. At the time the budget passed, Berhorst expected the same amount would be collected in 2020, and she hasn't changed her opinion.

Figures from County Finance Officer Debbie Malzner state the EMS sales tax brought in $275,809 compared to $227,288 for the same time last year. The law enforcement sales tax brought in $689,526 compared to $568,224 last year and the capital improvement sales tax brought in $689,531 compared to $568,371 in 2019.

"Sales taxes are 42 percent of county revenue," Berhorst said. "We were projecting flat sales tax growth for 2020 at the beginning of the year, but I'm kind of scared to make a prediction right now. We are hopeful this growth will continue, but I don't know if we'll continue to see the growth like what we saw in May. My hope would be we stay up 2-3 percent overall for the year."

Figures for some fees the county collects are down, but Berhorst said most of their revenues are where they should be for this time of the year. She said they have already begun getting ready for the 2021 budget process and have told county departments they can move forward with getting bids for items or projects they need. They will take it on a case-by-case basis when it comes to spending on larger items through the rest of the year.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Berhorst said, commissioners put funds in the general revenue fund, the sheriff's budget and in the EMS budget to specifically be used for COVID-related expenses.

As of Friday, Berhorst said, they have spent $19,499 for COVID expenses out of the general fund, $67,050 out of the EMS budget and $4,027 from the sheriff's budget. She said they are waiting to see if some of those funds will get reimbursed out of the $9 million the county received in May from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

"We do have healthy reserves so if we need to get into those we can," she said. "The state requires a 3 percent reserve in each spending fund that the county controls. Most of those reserves in our funds is greater than 10 percent."

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