By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
Muskogee County officials will have less money to work with this fiscal year, according to preliminary figures presented Tuesday.
County commissioners met with excise board members during a special meeting to review the numbers and discuss possible “belt-tightening” measures that could include a hiring freeze and delayed purchases.
A preliminary work schedule prepared by the county’s budget maker shows officials will have about $107,000, or 1.8 percent, less money to work with this year. Departmental budget requests, on the other hand, is up 4.22 percent, or $356,682, from the $8.46 million wish list submitted a year ago.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the county had general fund revenues that totaled about $5.99 million. Projected revenue available for the general fund in the fiscal year that began July 1 is estimated to be about $5.88 million, which includes a carryover of about $570,000 from the previous year.
The reduction, officials said, can be traced to at least three things: The expiration of a sales tax, a decline in estimated ad valorem tax collections, and a projected decrease in miscellaneous revenue. Much of the decline of the miscellaneous revenue was attributed to reduced returns on investment interest — nearly $31,000, or 17 percent, less than the $181,677 reported for fiscal year 2012.
County Assessor Dan Ashwood said the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s revaluation of property owned by Oklahoma Gas & Electric and Southwestern Bell Telephone contributed to much of the projected drop in ad valorem tax revenue. A third factor, Ashwood said, can be attributed to exemptions granted to Dal-Tile Corp. in an effort to spur its relocation and expansion efforts.
Jeff Spelman, director of ad valorem division of the Oklahoma Tax Commission said public service properties are re-evaluated annually. Valuations, Spelman said, are based upon a company’s assets and income.
“They go up and down based upon the value of their companies as determined by the valuation board based upon the assets they have plus the income they make,” Spelman said. “We value the whole company and allocate those out to the various tax districts.”
Spelman said, for example, ad valorem assessments might go up in a county where a public service company has made an investment and be reduced in districts where no improvements have been made.
Spelman said OG&E’s valuation statewide increased by about 7 percent. Records provided by Ashwood showed the valuation of the electric utility’s property in Muskogee County dropped nearly 3.3 percent, or $3.16 million, from $96.39 million valuation assessed in 2011.
Records provided by the county assessor’s office show Southwestern Bell’s state valuation at the county level decreased more than 40 percent, or $1.74 million, from $4.36 million in 2011.
Due to the projected decline in general fund revenue and the fact ad valorem revenue won’t begin flowing in to county coffers until January, District 1 Commissioner Gene Wallace said a “hiring freeze is worth discussing.” District 2 Commissioner Dexter Payne said county departments also need to look at other areas.
“If the excise board is going to exercise that authority, we need to look at where other cuts can be made,” Payne said in response to the proposed hiring freeze. “I’m all for a solution, but it has to be a real solution.”
Wallace suggested county officers delay purchases for everything except the essentials, such as payroll and overhead costs. Delaying those purchases would curb the county’s past reliance on borrowing against future ad valorem tax revenue through taxable warrants, which triggers interest payments and results with higher costs.
While nothing was finalized, commissioners and excise board members will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the fiscal year 2013 budget with county officers to hammer out the details.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.