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Commission OKs hiring firm to mail notices
Commissioners stress they won’t exceed RNR
barton county commission meeting pic
Barton County Commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, left, and Commissioner Kirby Krier confer during the commission meeting Wednesday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Grant writer limitations fail by 3-2 vote

Split commission nixes grant writer resolution



By a three-two vote, the Barton County Commission rejected a resolution proposed by District 1 Commissioner Kirby Krier that would have defined the parameters under which county employees or contractors, namely a county grant coordinator, could work with outside entities.

The commissioners, understanding that reliance on property tax dollars and user fees to support local government endeavors is shortsighted, seeks money to supplement local funding through competitive federal, state, local and private grant sources, Krier said. As such, it is important that the commission outline the parameters for the use of the time County employees and/or contractors may dedicate to that endeavor. 

Generally, his resolution limited assistance to local municipalities with a moratorium on assisting for-profit, private and property tax-exempt businesses and agencies. 

“We need to define the limits of the grant writer,” Krier said. His concern was that a county employee would get bogged down helping with outside entities when the person’s first priority should be county-related business.

However, “I would prefer not to have this in a resolution,” District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “I don’t want to hamstring future commissions” by enshrining this change in stone.

Schartz said she would be fine with a county grant writer just coming before the commission on a case-by-case basis.

Commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3, said he saw where Krier was coming from. “I think it is worth a try.”

But, District 2 Commissioner Barb Esfeld and District 4 Commissioner Jon Prescott both sought further clarification. “I’m on the fence,” Esfeld said, who seconded the motion despite her reservations.

In the end, the two were not convinced.

The resolution failed with Krier and Hutchinson voting for it, and Schartz, Esfeld and Prescott voting against it.

In approving the hiring Postalocity of Wichita at a cost of $8,950.54 to mail out Barton County’s Revenue Neutral Rate notices, county commissioners bristled at the idea of having to meet what they see as another pointless state mandate.

“It is an egregious waste of time and money,” said commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3. “We do not intend to break revenue neutral.”

County Clerk Bev Schmeidler said the Revenue Neutral Rate is the property tax rate in mills that would generate the same property tax revenue in dollars as levied during the previous tax year using the current tax year’s total assessed valuation.

So, while Barton County may not plan to breach the RNR, the myriad other 50-some taxing entities in the county may. These range from cities to school districts to recreation commissions to townships.

All Kansas counties are required to mail every property owner an estimated tax notice with information relative to each specific property’s taxes and the RNR compared to the proposed rate for each taxing subdivision.  

The Clerk’s Office solicited proposals for the bulk mailing of the notices as prepared in cooperation with area taxing entities. The approximately 17,000 – 18,000 notices, as prepared through the county’s Computer Information Concepts bookkeeping software, must be mailed by Aug. 10.

Schmeidler said they received several calls from vendors, but Postalocity offered the only bid.

The taxing bodies that intend to break RNR must contact the County Clerk’s Office by July 20. They will all be included in the notices that are sent.

However, “the whole thing is CYA,” District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. 

In the waning days of the 2021 session, the Kansas Legislature passed Senate Bill 13. Dubbed by the Senate as the Truth in Taxation or the revenue-neutral bill, The aim was to make the state’s complex tax system more transparent.

In a nutshell, SB 13 prohibits all taxing entities from increasing their tax collections by more than they did the year previous. This means, if an entity’s valuation (the total value of all property) goes up, the mill rate would have to go down to collect the same amount of taxes.

In addition, it established a requirement of notices to taxpayers and public hearings for municipalities seeking to collect property taxes exceeding their revenue-neutral rate.

The county gets preliminary property tax totals in July. The deadline to notify the County Clerk’s Office with the intent to hold a hearing was July 20.

The problem lies with the valuation numbers. The finalized one won’t be available until October, and possible fluctuations could impact the county’s budget one way or the other.

Under the statute, should the county over charge taxpayers, it must refund the amount. And, should it be less than anticipated, the county loses out on that revenue.

So, just in case, the county will opt to hold the revenue-neutral hearing.

And, “with inflation, it has been a very difficult budget year,” Hutchinson said.

While costly, Schmeidler said contracting the work is cheaper than using county staff time. And, with the upcoming primary election and other projects, her department doesn’t have the time.

Schmeidler said the state has indicated it will reimburse counties the cost of mailing the notices for the first two years. After that, each taxing entity will be responsible for their own costs.

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

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

• Approve hiring Postalocity of Wichita at a cost of $8,950.54 as a bulk mailer for revenue neutral rate notices.

• County Treasurer Jim Jordan discussed pending state legislation calling for increased registration and title fees for services performed by county treasurers and the division of vehicles.    

• Rejected a resolution defining the parameters under which county employees or contractors may seek, apply for or manage grants.

• Approved a clarification of county travel policies, to be used in coordination with the Barton County employee handbook.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the definition of business travel is travel the employee does “away from their home” for business purposes.  

County expectations for employees are found under the Barton County Employee Handbook, Policy 509, Business Travel Expenses. In an effort to clarify that travel process, it was suggested that, with the exception of travel in the Kansas City, Mo., area, all out of state travel must be approved by a majority of the commission and that employees of the county attorney, the county clerk, the county treasurer, the register of deeds and the sheriff are exempt from this provision, District 1 Commissioner Kirby Krier said. 

• On the evening of July 6, Barton County, particularly the City of Ellinwood and surrounding area, was impacted by severe weather. Several County offices responded. The commissioners heard an update from responding county and city officials.

• Approved a letter of support for Midwest Energy which is applying for grant to help replace a pipeline that crosses the northern part of the county.