Archive for Thursday, August 30, 2007

Public’s chance to weigh in on county budget is today

August 30, 2007

Time is running out for Leavenworth County residents that want their opinion heard before the 2008 budget is set.

A public budget hearing, which is mandated for every county in Kansas, scheduled for 10 a.m today, Aug. 30, at the Leavenworth County Courthouse will be residents' last chance to ask questions and voice concerns about the proposed $54.9 million budget for next year.

The budget proposal, released Aug. 13, is $9.9 million or approximately 22 percent higher than the current year estimate for 2007.

If the budgetary figures are approved Thursday, 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.

The owner of a home in Kansas 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 to draw upon. Total valuation now is $559.1 million, compared to $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 the 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 an 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 commission also pared down requests from county planning and zoning, emergency management and economic development.

The most significant additions to the budget came from increased reserve funds and the inclusion of special sales tax revenues for 2008.

$2.1 million leftover from justice center renovations was transferred into the county's general fund for the 2007 budget after the bonded debt for the center was paid off in December 2006, county clerk Linda Scheer said. Now, for 2008, commissioners are proposing that same money be transferred into the $4.4 million general capital improvement reserve fund for a variety of potential uses, although Graeber questioned whether leftover money from the justice center had to be used solely for work done to the center.

$4.2 million from the 1-cent sales tax running through 2016 that was not part of the 2007 budget will also be included in 2008.

Wagner said that now the funds could be utilized for specific projects in 2008.

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 that special sales tax revenue 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 I'm not really supportive of anything like that," he 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 way the following year," he said.

Commissioners will have an opportunity to officially approve the 2008 budget Thursday.

Reductions can still be made to the budget then, Scheer said, but if any increases are proposed, a new budget proposal would have to be published followed by another public hearing. For Leavenworth property owners, tax statements will be printed in October, with first-half taxes due in December.

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