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A challenging budget year
COVID-19, valuation drop, other factors force mill hike, spending cuts
2021 county budget hearing
Barton County Commissioner Jim Daily listens as County Administrator Phil Hathcock makes his 2021 county budget presentation Monday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

To say planning for the 2021 Barton County budget was complex would be an understatement, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said as he delivered his budget message to the County Commission Monday morning.
“The budget, as presented, represents an effort to maintain delivery of quality public services at the most value to the taxpayer,” Hathcock said, addressing commissioners in their Courthouse chamber. “This year the county is faced with many increasing budget requests as well as decreased valuations, and the unique challenge of the economic effects of COVID-19.”
The budget supports a mill levy of 46.314 for 2021. This is up from 43.814 in 2020.
Meanwhile, the spending authority for the county will decrease from $24,061,663 last year to $22,386,824.
The total mill levy, 46.314, generates $12,225,726 in property tax and is equivalent to $263,961 per mill. One mill is one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value. 
“This really was a very difficult budget on many levels,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. She is glad to work with county officials who keep their eyes on planning for the future.

Breaking it down
“In determining how to balance the budget, one must look at how the budget is funded,” Hathcock said. Approximately 57% of the county budget is funded through property, or ad valorem, taxes, of which almost $12 million was lost in valuation this year due to decreased oil and gas valuation as well as state assessed utilities.
“This decrease equates to $550,000 in lost budget revenue,” he said. “The commissioners were faced with the option of reducing county services, spending valuable reserve funds, or making up the deficit with a mill levy increase.”
Compounding the loss in revenue, the county experienced an increase in costs that cannot be controlled, he said. These include an $85,000 increase in health insurance costs from the state and $45,500 increase in the employer portion of Kansas Public Employee Retirement System costs. 
Some other increased costs that were included in the budget were a 3% raise which equates to 50 cents per hour for most county employees, and an increase in support for ambulance services.
Here is a county budget breakdown:
• Public works (31%), public safety (32%), and human Services (13%) compile 76% of county expenditures. General government makes up 23% and community development 1%.
• The notice of budget hearing that was published July 29 provided an overview of the proposed county budget. It detailed the actual expenses for 2019, adopted expenses for 2020, and the proposed budget for 2021. 

Budget details
“The commissioners chose not to levy the maximum allowed by the legislative tax lid,” Hathcock said. However, lowering the mill levy further would limit expenditures for the foreseeable future, or until the legislators modify the tax lid.
In the waning days of the 2015 “veto session” the Kansas Legislature passed a bill which, among other things, imposed a restriction on the amount that municipal property tax levies could rise. The so-called “property tax lid” would require municipalities to obtain a majority vote of residents in order to pass property tax levies that increase more than the rate of inflation in the previous year.
The lid has been a constant source of consternation for cities and counties since it went into effect in 2016.
This Barton County mill levy balances the 2021 budget funded at the same level as the 2020 budget, adjusted for the loss in valuation, Hathcock said. 
“There were several requests to increase expenditures by supported agencies that were not funded,” he said. “However, no outside agency budgets were reduced.”
Supported agencies as well as all county departments were held at the 2020 level with the exception of an increase to employee benefit funds and the ambulance fund. 
In part, the administration budget was increased to include the recently hired grant coordinator position as well as the reclassification of the floater position from the Appraisers Office. 
Property, or ad valorem, tax is 57% of the county’s revenue. Other sources of revenue include; cash carry forward, motor vehicle taxes, local sales/use tax, and federal and state grants.
While the 2021 budget reflects an increased mill levy to adjust for decreased valuations, a decrease in net expenditures, and increased cash carry forward due to reduced transfers to reserves in 2020. 

Looking to the future
The proposed 2021 budget reflects a valuation decrease, an adjusted mill levy to offset the decrease, and a reduction in total expenditures, Hathcock said. It also includes a cost of living wage adjustment for county employees. 
“The Commission and County officials have also planned for future expenditures and budget constraints such as a further valuation decrease in funding the 2022 budget, increased uncontrolled costs, and COVID-19 expenses and budget effects,” he said. “The county presently has adequate cash reserves in the capital improvement and equipment replacement accounts. By not depleting reserves, the county remains fiscally sound and is in the position to sustain quality services during uncertain economic times.” 

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:
• Held the public hearing on the 2021 county operating budget. County Administrator Phil Hathcock said the budget, impacted by COVID-19, a drop in valuation and other factors, is funded by an increased mill levy and a reduction in spending.
• Adopted the 2021 operating budget.
• Adopted the 2021 authorized positions listing. The listing includes all County positions, including Central Kansas Community Corrections and 20th Judicial District Juvenile Services, since both fall under the umbrella of county operations. This includes 242 positions, 194 full-time, six part-time, 36 on-call and six temporary.
• Adopted the capital improvement and equipment replacement plans. These are five-year plans that involve spending reserve funds.  
• Approved the service agreement with Southwest Developmental Services Inc. SDSI is the Community Developmental Disability Organization for the county. Under the 2021 service agreement, SDSI will provide all services required by Kansas statutes for a CDDO for a total of $70,000, Hathcock said. This is unchanged from the previous year. 
Barton County has contracted with SDSI since 2004.