County budget nears completion
The Leavenworth County Commission has released a 2008 budget that is $9.9 million - or approximately 22 percent - higher than the current year estimate for 2007.
Commissioners on Monday unanimously voted to publish the $54.9 million budget and to schedule a public budget hearing, which is mandated by the state of Kansas, for 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at the Leavenworth County Courthouse.
If the budgetary figures are approved at that meeting, the property tax levy for the coming year will grow by 1.427 mills - or 5.1 percent - even though the budget as a whole has grown at a much larger rate.
The mill levy, which commissioners plan will fund $16.6 million of the entire budget, was tentatively set at 29.608 mills, up from 28.181 mills last year, but down from the 35.951 mills levied in 2006.
A mill is equal to $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.
In Kansas, residential property is assessed at 11.5 percent of fair market value, so the owner of a home in Leavenworth County valued at $150,000 would pay about $511 in property taxes in 2008. That's up $25 from the 2007 rate.
Helping to ease the burden on taxpayers was a $27.1 million countywide increase in assessed value for the county to draw upon. Total valuation now is $559.1 million, compared with $532 million a year ago.
The budget will also start next year with an estimated $15.2 million in carryover from 2007, Steve Wagner, a certified public accountant who advises the commission on its budget, said.
"Kansas is a zero-based budget," Wagner explained. "So if you have excess moneys coming out, they should flow over to the '08 year."
Wagner also noted that $4.1 million of the budgeted expenditures were from transfers reallocating money from fund to fund or, basically, accounting for the expenses more than once.
"(Transfers) were counted as an expenditure, a receipt and then a expenditure again," he said. "That's why you need to look at it fund by fund and not as a whole."
Included in the 2008 budget are plans for a new Emergency Medical Services facility last estimated at $982,000, $313,000 in increased employee benefits, a $118,000 - or 32.1 percent - increase for the upcoming 2008 elections, a new code enforcement officer for the sheriff's department at a yearly salary of $68,000, and over 5 percent departmental increases for the county surveyor, council on aging, county clerk and coroner.
The commission did trim proposals from several departments including an over $2 million reduction to what public works officials had requested for the road and bridge fund. That cut effectively eliminated road improvements considered for County Road 2, a road Commissioner Clyde Graeber said is not in dire need of repair.
The most significant additions to the budget came from increased reserves and the inclusion of special sales tax revenue for 2008.
Over $2 million in money leftover from improvements to the Justice Center was transferred to the general equipment reserve and the general capital improvement reserve funds for possible future projects, Wagner said.
Graeber pointed out that the increased reserves "distorted the budget tremendously."
County Clerk Linda Scheer replied, "(Those figures) have to be in here if you're going to spend them."
Also included for 2008 was $4.2 million from the voter-approved 1-cent special sales tax approved in 2006 that was not part of the 2007 budget.
Wagner said that now the fund could be utilized for projects in 2008.
Other large-scale initiatives, including improvements to County Road 1 leading to a proposed interchange with Interstate 70 and a communications upgrade for county emergency service providers, could be drawn from the special sales tax that runs until 2016 or from bond issues.
Commission Chairman J.C. Tellefson expressed concern with the budget's large increase and raised mill levy but emphasized there was little room for further reductions.
"As much as I dislike tax increases, the only way I can see of taking anything out of this is by drawing from our employees' benefits and salaries, and I'm not really supportive of anything like that," Tellefson said.
According to him, county employees will see a 1.5 percent cost of living increase in 2008 and a 2 percent meritorious pay raise dispersed according to the current salary matrix.
Commissioner Dean Oroke compared next year's mill levy increase after a drop of 7.7 mills in 2007 to a pendulum swinging.
"You know that if you swing it way back, it's going to swing the other the following year," he said.
For Leavenworth property owners, tax statements will be printed in October, with first-half taxes due in December.