Employee layoffs in the Franklin County Assessor’s Office were avoided by the county commission’s approval of emergency funds Tuesday to cover state money that has been frozen by the governor’s office, officials said.

A budget battle between the governor and the Legislature has put state funding for the Franklin County Assessor’s Office in jeopardy, Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer said.

“It’s like a chess game, and we’re pawns in the middle,” Griesheimer added.

The $215,220 that the county assessor’s office was supposed to get from the state has been frozen as of the start of the fiscal year Tuesday.

That is money that goes to pay for operational costs, such as salaries and fuel, in Assessor Tom Copeland’s office.

The county commission approved transferring to the assessor’s office up to $215,220 from emergency funds to cover the state money that is being held back at this time.

In the meantime, county officials hope the Legislature and governor can reach an agreement to restore the state funding to the assessor’s office.

“This sort of bickering between the Legislature and the governor puts us in a horrible position as counties,” First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker said.

County officials note that the assessor’s office is required by law to assess parcels and now the state is taking the funding away, creating an unfunded mandate.

The county is “being put into a vice between the governor’s office and the Legislature,” Griesheimer said.

State funding for all assessors’ budgets are part of $786 million in budget vetoes and restrictions that Gov. Jay Nixon said he made to bring the state budget into balance.

More than a dozen special breaks for various industries were partly to blame for the budget being out of balance, Nixon said. He vetoed those breaks, but the Legislature could still override him in the September veto session.

Therefore, local officials don’t expect to know until after the veto session whether the state funding for the county assessor’s office will be restored.

‘Are We Going to Get Paid?’

It would have meant layoffs for the assessor’s office if the county commission did not transfer funds to the office to cover the state funding shortfall, Griesheimer noted.

“The bottom line is you’re being held hostage right now with no (state) money coming in,” Griesheimer told Copeland.

One employee of the assessor’s office was “pale as a ghost” after hearing about the state cuts and asked, “ ‘Are we going to get paid next Thursday?’ ” Copeland said.

Copeland explained that his office is supposed to get a $3 reimbursement from the state for each parcel it reviews.

It is “ridiculous” to withhold that funding from the assessors’ offices to help bring the budget in balance, Griesheimer said.

“I don’t see legally how he (the governor) can do that,” Griesheimer said. “This (property assessment) is a mandated action by the state. You’re mandated to provide these services, and now all of the sudden they are withholding the money.”

Separate from the state money, the assessor’s office also gets about $655,000 from the county taxing entities, Copeland said.

Several years ago, Copeland had to lay off some employees and reduce some salaries for others due to a state funding cut, he said.

Now he said he is at “bare bones manpower.”

‘Ugly’ Fight

This is an “ugly” fight between the Legislature and the governor, Griesheimer said adding, “This is a blood sport right now.”

Gov. Nixon’s action on the state budget affects far more than just county assessors’ offices. Many other services, such as courts and education, are impacted by the governor’s budget vetoes and restrictions.

“As governor, it’s my responsibility under the Missouri Constitution to keep the budget in balance by ensuring the spending authorized by the General Assembly does not exceed available revenue,” Nixon said in the release. “These actions are not easy, but they are absolutely essential to putting the budget back in balance and keeping the state on a fiscally responsible path.”

Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz said the county should be “proactive” in approaching the governor’s office on the withheld funding. He added that the Missouri Association of Counties could get involved.

Griesheimer noted that the governor also froze a $3 per day increase in the reimbursement the county gets from the state for housing prisoners.