PAXTON - Stung by the defeat of a ballot question in November, the Ford County Board has decided not to seek to raise sales taxes in 2003.
Meanwhile, as Ford County's general fund continues to dwindle, County Treasurer Nancy Krumwiede said the county may soon need to borrow money to keep services going.
Right now, people who shop in Ford County stores are paying a 6.25 percent sales tax.
In November, Ford County residents voted 2,695 to 1,852 to reject a measure that would have increased the county's sales tax by a quarter-cent.
With county finances continuing to dwindle due to lower property values, lower revenue from the state and higher expenses, the county board had considered putting a new ballot question on the April 1 ballot.
Finance Committee Chairman Floyd Otto said the question would have asked voters to approve a half-cent sales tax hike, with the money going toward the general fund, not just toward safety.
Ford County Board member Ernie Brown estimated the half-cent tax would generate an additional $140,000 annually.
Otto originally placed the item on the agenda for today's county board meeting in the hopes the board would place it on the ballot.
But Otto pulled it from consideration after Ford County State's Attorney Tony Lee advised him it would be illegal.
?State law says we can only use the money for public safety reasons,? Otto said. ?We wanted to apply the money to our general fund, but Tony told us we can't do that.?
?The county board wanted to put the question on the ballot and not tie the money to anything in particular; just raise money to balance the budget,? Lee said. ?I spoke with officials at the Department of Revenue, who told me the sales tax has to be dedicated for a specific purpose, such as public safety.?
Otto said the finance committee would need to put together a whole new ballot question before he could bring the issue to the full county board.
State law requires government bodies to put questions on the ballot by January. Otto said he ran out of time to get the job done for the April election. The next county board meeting won't be until Feb. 10.
?Considering the economy, I'm not so sure it would have passed this April even if we had been able to put it on the ballot,? Otto said.
Since there will be no elections this fall, Otto said the soonest the issue could come before Ford County voters would be during the presidential primary in 2004.
Meanwhile, the county's general fund continues to dwindle.
According to financial figures released last month, Ford County had budgeted for revenues of $2.8 million for the fiscal year that ended on Dec. 1.
But the county received only $2.5 million.
Meanwhile, the county budgeted $2.8 million for expenses but ended up spending $2.9 million.
As a result, the county lost $433,000.
The last four weeks have seen the county's general fund drop from $126,000 to $112,000, according to Krumwiede.
?We'll soon have to issue tax anticipation warrants,? Krumwiede said. ?We'll be anticipating the tax money from the tax bills that will go out in May or June.
?We will borrow against income that we already have earmarked for something else. We will bid it out to all the Ford County banks and get the lowest interest rate that we can. Then, when the tax money comes in, that will be the very first thing that gets paid off.?
Krumwiede said another solution would be if the state sends money it has promised the county. According to a treasurer's report issued on Monday, the state still owes Ford County $46,000 in probation department salary reimbursements; $5,000 in assessment department salary reimbursements; and $14,700 in state's attorney salary reimbursements.