Approved budget holds mill levy rate constant
Leavenworth County commissioners have put the finishing touches on the county's 2008 budget, forecasting increased spending but with a steady mill levy rate.
The $53.3 million budget approved after a public hearing Thursday, Aug. 30, is 18.4 percent higher than the county's estimated spending for 2007, yet commissioners found a way to hold the line on property taxes.
At the beginning of their meeting Thursday, commissioners faced a proposed budget calling for a levy increase of 1.46 mills.
A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation. For an owner of a $150,000 home, that would have equated to a $25 increase in property tax rates.
Commissioner Clyde Graeber voiced his disapproval with any mill levy increase Thursday. He said that even though the proposed budget only had a 1.46 mill increase, he felt any increase was unnecessary.
Ultimately, all three commissioners voted to keep the mill levy at the 2007 rate of 28.181 mills.
To allow this, Graeber suggested reducing the amount of leftover sales tax money raised for Justice Center improvements to be transferred out of the county general fund into the capital improvement fund from approximately $2.5 million to $1.7 million.
Graeber said the general capital improvement fund, which is now set at $3.6 million would be "more than ample for the projects scheduled for 2008," which include a new Emergency Medical Services building and a new kitchen and trusty area in the basement of the Justice Center.
Large increases in reserve funds and the inclusion of the voter-approved 1-cent sales tax that runs through 2016 were the main causes of an inflated budget for next year.
Steve Wagner, a certified public accountant who advises the commission during the budget-setting process, said though that, with all reserve and special sales funds subtracted, the budget is actually more like $43 million, which, he said, "is a comparable increase to what the county has had in the past."
Easing the burden on taxpayers was a $27.l 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 unexpended funds from 2007, Wagner said.
Although the commission voted not to raise property taxes, residents present Thursday at the public hearing said the tax burden was still too great for many Leavenworth County residents.
"If we we're trying to live on Social Security, we wouldn't exist," said Louis Klemp, Leavenworth. "It's putting the burden on those who don't have the investments of other kinds."
Commission Chairman J.C. Tellefson recognized that, in general, there was a drain on property owners but said, "with the budget as it is now, I don't know where else we can cut it."
"I would support a bigger pay raise (for county employees), but I'm not in favor of raising taxes any more," he added.
Leavenworth County employees will see a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase in 2008 and 2 percent meritorious pay raises dispersed according to the current salary matrix.
Employee benefits jumped from $4.4 million to $4.7 million due to an approximately 15 percent increase in medical insurance premiums.
"We've got to fix that, and we will," Tellefson said.
Commissioner Dean Oroke said that after cuts of eight mills in 2006 and three mills in 2005, he expected the mill levy to swing back the other way this year.
"I hope people reaped some benefit from that large decrease," Oroke said of the 27.5 percent mill levy decrease since 2005.
Tellefson emphasized that, if valuations continue to rise again this year, property owners may actually see a reduction in the mill levy for 2008. Valuation will be certified later this year. Tax statements will go out in October to property owners, with first-half taxes due in December.
Also on Thursday, the board:
¢ Voted, 2-1, with Oroke opposed, to waive the normal bidding policy and allow County Health Department officials to spend $6,700 for a copy machine out of funds procured from a state grant.
Kathy Mustain, with the Health Department, told the commission the grant was to run out at 5 p.m. Thursday.
"If we don't spend this money today, we lose it," Commissioner Tellefson said but asked if the purchase was in violation of the county's bidding policy.
"Single source bids are discouraged," said County Counselor David Van Parys. "But the policy was written so exceptions could exist. : In this case, I think you (the commission) could justify deviating from the bidding policy."
¢ Voted, 3-0, to deny a special use permit for the operation of a metal fabrication shop on the property of Jackie Brock at 14131 Belrive Circle in Basehor.
Brock, who does not live on the property, said he was under the impression the reason the Planning Commission recommended denying the SUP was because it wasn't his full-time residence.
A valid protest petition signed by every resident within a 1,000-square-foot radius of the property was submitted Thursday.
"Our concern is that this will encourage future commercial development in a residential area," neighborhood spokeswoman Karen Olson said.
¢ Voted, 3-0, to approve a special use permit for a dog kennel owned by Martin and Janet Florence at 22985 154th St., under the condition that the SUP be reviewed after one year.
Included in the SUP was the stipulation that the Florences reduce the amount of dogs on their property to 10.