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Commission OKs 2019 budget
Valuation hike makes stagnate mill levy palatable
new deh county commission budget pic web
Barton County officials and commissioners listened to a presentation on the 2019 budget during the commissions budget hearing Monday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:

• Approved the 2019 budget. This action followed a public budget hearing.

• Approved the 2019 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 is an annual action, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said.

The listing includes 194 full-time employees, nine part-time, 38 on-call and eight temporary.

• Approved the Capital Improvement Plan. This five-year plan, as revised each year, allows for the projected maintenance and remodeling of County buildings and major modifications to roads and bridges. Again, this is done annually.

• Approved the Equipment Replacement Plan. The five-year plan is developed and revised each year for the purpose of ensuring that equipment costs are kept at a manageable level. This is another annual occurrence.

• Approved the service agreement with Southwest Developmental Services Inc. SDSI is the community developmental disability organization (CDDO) for the County. Under the 2019 service agreement, SDSI will provide all services required by Kansas statutes for a CDDO for a total of $70,000, Hathcock said.  

The cost has remained unchanged since 2015. It was $100,000 in 2012 and $80,000 in 2014.

Southwest contracts with the State of Kansas as a CDDO for an 18-county area in southwest and central Kansas. It is based in Garden City but has an office Great Bend. SDSI has contracted with Barton County since July 2005.

SDSI does not provide services directly to individuals, said SDSI President Mark Hinde. It contracts with affiliated community providers and helps coordinate services, such as assessments, transfers from one agency to another and counseling for clients and their families.

 The Barton County Commission adopted its operating budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, a budget that presented unique challenges for county officials. The action followed a public budget hearing. 

“This budget represents an organizational blueprint to maintain the delivery of quality public services at an affordable cost to the taxpayer while maintaining a near constant mill levy,” County Administrator Phil Hathcock said during his presentation to the commission. “The commissioners once again this year faced many challenges when they worked to balance the budget.”

High among these were increasing uncontrolled costs, he said. These included higher insurance and employee retirement costs. 

The budget includes total expenditures of $21,126,430 ($11,610,008 generated by the 43.592 mill levy), up from $20,459,946 last year. This appears to be lower than 2017’s total of $23,732,346, but $4,464,398 were expenditures from non-budgeted funds (i.e. Community Corrections, Juvenile Services, Motor Vehicle Operating, etc.) that are not required to show budget authority. This made the expenditures look higher. 

A bit of good news

“Fortunately, the 2019 budget includes a valuation increase of $9,803,841,” Hathcock said. This equates to an increase in budget authority of $382,000.

The county’s valuation increased  from $257,187,662 last year. In 2019 one mill will equal $266,333, whereas in 2018 one mill equals $257,187.

The valuation is based on the total assessed value of property within the county. A mill equals $1 in taxation for every $1,000 in valuation, so a higher valuation brings in more per mill.

Referring back to the unexpected costs facing the county, Hathcock said they include a $45,000 hike in health insurance, $100,000 in the retirement, $32,000 in general liability insurance and a $28,000 cost relating to the detention center and inmate medications. In addition, there was a $53,000 increase for the Health Department, a 45-cent-per-hour raise for employees, an $80,000 health insurance subsidy and $19,000 for cyber security programs.

“The proposed budget supports a slightly lower mill levy,” he said. This is due to a cap in expenditures mandated by the current legislative tax lid.

“Lowering the mill levy further would cut expenditures into the foreseeable future or until the state lifts the lid,” he said. 

The mill rate, 43.592, is down a tick from 2018’s rate of 43.657, but up a tad over the 2017 rate of 43.567. Hathcock noted that only 20-26 percent of a taxpayer’s total property taxes go to the county, with the balance going to other taxing entities.

“There were other requests to increase expenditures that were not funded,” he said. These included increases sought by supported non-profit agencies and any increases for county departments. 

Furthermore, $33,000 was taken from election funds as this is an off-year for elections.

When referring to the county’s revenue, Hathcock said property tax funds only 59 percent of the budget. Public Works and Public Safety account for over half of the total expenditures.

After the budget was prepared, the administrator’s office received verbal notification from the County Attorney’s Office of costs that might be associated with the recent double homicide that occurred during the Barton County Fair, Hathcock said. It is premature to build these into the budget, but there are funds included for special cases.

In good shape

The county currently has adequate reserves in capital improvement and equipment replacement funds, he said. “By not depleting these reserves, the county remains fiscally sound and is in a position to sustain a constant mill levy while providing quality services.”

“We really did work long and hard on this budget,” commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said. Budgets are always tricky, but the tax lid only complicated matters further.

“We had to hammer out a lot of things,” she said. She regretted not being able to fund outside agencies as they wished they could.

“We would like to fund them at a higher level because they do good work,” Schartz said. “So it is unfortunate we were unable to step up and help people the way we would have liked to.”

“Being under the tax lid has helped keep taxes as low as possible,” Commissioner Alicia Straub said. “I think we’ve done a good job of funding the things we must fund.”

As for the possible pending trials, “we can cross that bridge when we get to it,” Straub said. “We don’t want to raise taxes on people who are already struggling to make ends meet.”

Elected officials, department heads and supported agencies were asked to su bmit preliminary budget requests for the 2019 operating year. After reviewing the requests, the commission then reviewed the proposed budget and made revisions. 

This is what was presented to the public and commissioners Monday morning, Hathcock said. 

In a related note, the commission adopted a resolution expressing the property taxation policy of the commission, with respect to Financing the 2019 annual budget. It expresses the property taxation policy of the county and details the costs of providing services, Finance Officer Matt Patzner said.