Seek Details On Delayed Funds

Marshall County officials still have not received hundreds of thousands of dollars – perhaps as much as $1.6 million – they expected to have from the state for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

County Administrator Betsy Frohnapfel and County Clerk Jan Pest worry that may result in a temporary budget shortfall.

Two categories of money collected by the state for partial distribution to counties are involved, as we reported. Both are severance taxes, one on coal and the other on oil and natural gas.

Though the fiscal 2014 budget did not include oil and gas severance tax revenue, it did use money from the coal severance tax.

Because the money is collected by state government, precisely how much is involved is not known. But this week, Marshall County Commissioner Don Mason said he believes the county “is being shorted about $1.6 million …”

That is a lot of money, especially since some of it was built into last year’s budget.

What gives?

Money from coal severance taxes, estimated at between $800,000 and $900,000, should be received later this month, state Treasurer John Perdue has advised commissioners. But revenue from the oil and gas severance tax will not be coming until October.

A state official said that delay will allow energy companies to calculate how much tax they owe more accurately than if checks had to be written sooner.

Earlier this month, officials in Charleston said the state closed out its fiscal year June 30 with a balanced budget. They offered little explanation of how that was accomplished in the context of a year in which spending frequently outpaced revenue collections.

Having millions of dollars in coal severance tax revenue destined for counties in state accounts on June 30 may well have helped keep the budget in balance.

“Creative accounting” is used often in government to deal with cash flow problems. But if it was utilized in this case to help the state while at the very least forcing some counties to juggle their own finances, it was not a good idea – and nothing like it should ever be repeated. Officials in counties affected by the delay should seek more answers concerning why it occurred.