In a work session prior to the regular St. Charles County Council meeting on Nov. 14, County Executive Steve Ehlmann provided an overview of his recommended 2023 budget with expenditures of $112,951,901 and anticipated revenues of $90,978,588.
If the usual process and timing are followed, the council will have another 2023 budget work session prior to its meeting on Nov. 28. The council will then conduct a public hearing about the budget and introduce a bill for the budget at its meeting on Dec. 5.
It is expected that the council will vote for passage of the budget bill at its final 2022 meeting on Dec. 19.
That process most likely will lead to revisions to the initial budget version before a budget bill is introduced at the Dec. 5 meeting.
In his budget cover letter dated Nov. 7, Ehlmann provided some context regarding how the initial budget was prepared:
- Final sales tax revenues for calendar year 2021 grew by 5.8% over 2020.
- 2022 sales tax revenues to-date indicate similar continued growth.
- The county will remain fiscally conservative in planning for 2023, because of continuing challenges with employee staffing and economic inflation.
- The county anticipates growth in sales tax revenues will slow in 2023 to 5%.
- Current favorable sales tax revenue levels and higher-than-expected 2021 fund balances enable the recommended budget to include a focus on retaining and recruiting county employees.
- The proposed new pay plan will compare county positions to 60% of the market rate rather than 50%, creating a more competitive pay scale and increased attractiveness of the county’s positions in the marketplace.
- The new pay plan recognizes employee longevity and also has incentives for experienced police and dispatchers to join the county.
- Keeping the new employee pay plan up to date will be one of the primary budget priorities in future years if sales tax revenues continue to be sufficient.
- Because the pay plan was done during 2022, the 2023 budget has a 2% cost of living adjustment for all employees.
Ehlmann said the county’s population continues to grow, with the 2020 decennial census reflecting a total population of 405,262 residents, an increase of 12.4% over the 2010 Census. In comparison, he said, the population of the sate of Missouri grew by 2.8%, St. Louis County population grew by 0.5%, and the City of St. Louis population decreased by 5.5% over the same period. The 2022 estimate of the countywide population is 414,218.
Ehlmann clarified that sales tax revenues still account for approximately 65% of total general fund revenues. Any decrease in sales tax rate of growth has serious consequences to the continued funding of the general fund budget, which funds most of the county’s essential service departments including police department, corrections department, prosecuting attorney, sheriff department, health department, and most centralized service departments such as finance, human resources, and information technology.
He said sales tax also is the primary funding source for the continued development of the county’s roadway infrastructure. The half-cent transportation sales tax is a critical component to developing county roadways to encourage continued growth and economic development.
Ehlmann pointed out that “the local economy is experiencing a time of continued residential, multi-family and commercial construction. This growth continues even though the effects of inflation are being felt in every economic sector. Economic forecasts for St. Charles County in 2023 indicate low unemployment with strong wage growth. However, the long-term effects of inflation and supply constraints could bring a slowdown to the economy. Uncertainty about the effects of any economic improvement makes widespread budget assumptions difficult, especially with the lingering presence of the coronavirus pandemic.”
He said that because of those factors, he believes it is best to once again recommend a fiscally conservative budget, reflecting $90,978,588 in general fund revenues for the 2023 fiscal year. This budget also assumes no changes to the current property tax in 2023 which has remained at zero since 2016.
He said the proposed budget authorizes general fund appropriations of $112,951,901, which reflects 2023 expenditures, as well as the emergency reserve and the re-appropriation of 2022 projects that are to be completed in 2023. The allocation made to the emergency reserve satisfies the required 3% of total revenue.
Regarding employee health insurance, he said shortfalls in funding to the self-insurance fund have continued in recent years. Therefore, they have increased the county share of health insurance premiums by 8% for 2023 which they believe will help provide proper funding to the self-insurance fund.
Regarding parks and recreation, Ehlmann said that during 2022 ongoing development took place throughout the county parks system, with Ogelsby Park opening in the summer. The 2023 budget provides $23.9 million from the parks and recreation fund for the continued development of improvements and amenities to park properties. Total acreage in the county park system is currently 4,197 acres, of which 3,897 acres is open, 217 acres has life estate limitations preventing current development, and 83 acres are awaiting development.
Regarding transportation, he said expenditures of approximately $87.3 million from the transportation fund are included for the design and/or construction of approximately 75 different road improvement projects throughout the county. He is recommending the appropriation of approximately $13.2 million for asphalt overlays, asphalt and concrete street reconstruction, concrete slab replacement, and crack sealing of existing county roadways from the road and bridge fund. Additionally, $9.2 million of the American Rescue Plan Act Fund (ARPA) is recommended for appropriation because the program for asphalt overlay and concrete slab replacement of county roads created in 2022 continues into 2023.