Dec. 31, 2020
The tentacles of the coronavirus reach far and wide and have been ever so present this past year in Adair County. The impact of COVID-19 in 2020 hit the county in so many ways, including schools, restaurants, and hotels. And as probably as hard as anywhere, the virus hit the county government with a solid punch to the gut.
“The coronavirus affected every aspect of county government,” said Adair County Judge Executive Gale Cowan. “It really affected our revenue. (As an example) when the court system shut down, it affected revenue for the sheriff. It also affected the jail because people didn’t get sentenced (the county pays for incarceration until inmates are sentenced and become state inmates). The virus had an affect on rentals at the Jim Blair Center and the courthouse annex. The coronavirus has affected all of the departments. …And I really think this is going to hurt us on our next budget.”
Cowan and the Adair County Fiscal Court have tried to be conscientious of spending. The court did have to borrow from the road fund last year, but was able to pay it back before the end of the fiscal year. With a budget committee meeting set for Jan. 5, Cowan hopes the court will never have to do that again.
“The county budget gets tighter and tighter every year and it is to the point where some hard decisions are going to have to be made,” Cowan said. “They’re not going to be popular decisions with a lot of people, but when you look at it from our side…”
Cowan said she’s had a lot of people talk to her about what some counties can do and why can’t Adair County do those same things. She said she explains to them just about every county in the state has some other tax revenue coming in, besides a property tax, which is all Adair County has.
The city of Columbia has an occupational tax, or payroll tax, as well as an insurance premium tax. That’s how the city has the funding to do a lot of the projects it does, she said.
“Nobody likes taxes, but at the same point we have to look at what’s best for our community and to utilize the services we have,” Cowan said. “Our employees haven’t had a raise in several years and I am not happy about that. I am not for putting on a tax just to give our employees a raise, but I want to support our employees.
“(Hear me) I am not saying we’re going to put a tax on (in 2021), but we’re going to have to make some hard decisions and we’re going to have to look at ways to bring revenue into our community,” the judge said. “A tax is a definite possibility.”
Local counties are limited in what they can do to raise revenue.
“I am to the point where we have to do something to help our employees or we’re going to start losing good employees,” Cowan said. “We have to find some revenue source to do what we need to do. We have tightened our belts about as much as we can; we’ve gone line by line (in our budget) and we’ve cut until we can’t cut anymore.”
Cowan said she is not planning on additional taxes and, a new tax is a last option. To help, she’s even contacted local and state officials to let them know counties like Adair County need help.
“A tax is not something we want to do,” the judge said, “but with how things are going right now, we may have to look at it.”
Cowan said with all the big decisions that lie ahead for the county, she is eager to hear from the citizens.
“If you have questions, come talk to me. My door is always open,” Cowan said. “If you have an idea about something, I want to hear it. If you have a question, come tell us what’s wrong so we can fix the problem.”
By Scott Wilson