Douglas County Commission to consider amending 2020 budget to account for CARES Act spending, increased sales tax revenue

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

Douglas County may soon make changes to its current budget to account for increased spending and revenue it did not originally plan for.

The County Commission on Wednesday will consider approving an amendment to the 2020 budget, which was originally crafted in the summer of 2019.

The year-end budget amendment is standard practice for the county, which waits until the end of the budget’s cycle to make the changes that reflect unexpected increases in revenue that were not in the originally adopted budget. That revenue is often either spent during the budget’s cycle or transferred out to be moved to different fund accounts at a later date.

According to budget documents provided to the commissioners, some of the needed changes reflect a significant increase in spending from grant funding and some increased tax revenues.

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said the vast majority of the increased grant fund spending, which is earmarked at $26.5 million, comes from the county’s allotment of funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Through the federal aid, the county received $24.9 million this fall to distribute to the community by the end of the year.

The budget amendment also accounts for an increase in revenue from the county’s 1% sales tax. The county was slated to receive $7.2 million from the tax in 2020, but the documents show it ended up receiving an additional $200,000, for a total of $7.4 million.

Plinsky recently told commissioners that she was “really pleased” with that revenue, especially with the expectation that the COVID-19 pandemic would cause an economic recession. But she told the Journal-World Tuesday that it was also the result of the county providing a conservative estimate for how much the sales tax would bring in.

However, the revenue is still higher than what the county re-estimated for the tax. Plinsky told the commissioners on Nov. 4 that the county dropped the revenue estimate down from $7.2 million to $7 million over the summer because of the pandemic. But the county was on track to beat both, receiving at least $7.3 million from the tax in 2020, she said at the time.

“(That) is above our adopted budget and substantially more than our re-estimated budget. So that’s a really good sign,” Plinsky said. “We’re generally very conservative in our sales tax estimates anyway, which has proved us well in this situation.”

Other amendments include accounting for increased spending for ambulance services and mental health projects.

In other business, the commissioners will:

• Hold a work session to discuss the health of Black women and children in the community with officials from Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.

• Consider approving the rezoning of 67 properties near Lone Star Lake to move them from transitional agriculture, also known as Ag-2, to Lone Star Residential, also known as LS. When the county established new zoning regulations earlier this year, it created the LS zoning specifically for small properties near the lake that do not conform with the agriculture zoning.

• Consider extending its law enforcement contact study with researchers from Northeastern University and American University. The study began in 2020, but police contact with residents dropped significantly throughout the year because of the pandemic. The researchers suggested extending the study to provide more time to obtain a “statistically sufficient number of pedestrian and traffic stops in order to address the primary question of the study.”

The County Commission will convene at 4 p.m. Wednesday for its work session and 5:30 p.m. for its regular business meeting. The meeting will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 988 2743 4171.

Full audio from the meeting will continue to be posted on the county’s website, as usual. The meeting’s full agenda may also be found on the county’s website.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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