Commission releases its 2019 budget

The Platte County Commission released its 2019 budget last week, with a special session set for its approval at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 14 at the County Administration Center.

The 2019 commission-recommended budget projects $20.6 million in revenue and $20.4 million in expenditures in the general fund. The auditor’s recommended budget released in November projected $20.5 million in revenue and $20.5 million in expenditures. The estimated year-end revenues for 2018 were $18.5 million.

A hefty chunk of the introduction of the 200-plus page document concerns the situation involving Zona Rosa Town Center. While Auditor Kevin Robinson recommended allocating the full principal and interest payment for the Zona Rosa bonds, the commission budget does not include any payments in 2019.

The budget message from commissioners includes a summary of the history of the county’s involvement with Zona Rosa through its 2007 expansion. At that time, the county agreed to act as a backstop for bonds funding construction of parking garages. The bonds were to be repaid through a one percent sales tax, but revenues have fallen short. In late 2017, the owners of Zona Rosa failed to make the bond payment and in 2018 defaulted on the mortgage. Zona Rosa is now bank-owned and operating under a management firm.

Current commissioners state the county is not responsible for covering these bond payments, and have filed a lawsuit asking the court to determine who is responsible for the payments. The matter is scheduled to go to bench trial in May. In the meantime, the county was ordered to set aside $765,391 to cover the payment.

Of its decision to not set aside any funds for potential payments in 2019, the commission stated “This reflects the commission’s determination that payments on the Zona Rosa bonds would have significant negative consequences for the citizens of the county. For instance, any payments would quickly deplete the county’s $3.5 million reserve fund, which exists for emergency situations, not to prevent investment losses by bondholders.”

Aside from Zona Rosa, major differences between the auditor’s recommendations and the commission’s proposal include an overall increase in revenue projections. Robinson suggested revenue for 2019 would come in 5.5 percent lower than 2018 actual revenue. Commissioners narrowed this gap to 2.8 percent.

Robinson also suggested a 2.5 percent wage increase for county employees. The commission budget includes a more modest 1.5 percent wage adjustment. However, the county will cover the 5.4 percent increase in health insurance costs for its employees.

Due to a previous vote of the salary commission governing elected officeholder salaries, officials who took office this month will receive a 2.5 percent increase.

The commission’s budget also includes an additional six deputies for the sheriff’s office, as well as one new full-time employee for the assessor’s office.

Commissioners also beefed up the transfer to the emergency reserve fund from $273,906 recommended by the auditor to $470,000 from the general fund.