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County holds line on mill rate
Reserves tapped to balance budget
new deh county commission budget pic web
Members of the Barton County Commission discuss the 2017 county budget. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

In other budget-related matters Monday morning, the commission:

• Adopted the authorized position 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 a listing of all the jobs department heads are authorized to hire.

• Adopted the capital improvement plan. Through the budgeting process, Barton County plans for cash transfers, as savings, to the Capital Improvement Plan. This plan, as revised each year, allows for the projected maintenance and remodeling of county buildings and major modifications to roads and bridges.

Big issues in the future include roofing, plumbing and air conditioning at the courthouse, air conditioning at the Sheriff’s Office and major road asphalt overlay projects.

• Adopted the equipment replacement plan. Through the budgeting process, Barton County plans for cash transfers, as savings, to the Equipment Replacement Plan. The plan is developed and revised each year for the purpose of ensuring that equipment costs is kept at a manageable level.

The big expense here will be $350,000 for new electronic voting equipment, and items for the Road and Bridge Department.

 Standing firm in not raising the mill levy in the face of continued revenue declines, the Barton County Commission Monday morning approved a budget that instead balanced by tapping into the county’s reserves.

The action came after a budget hearing Monday morning prior to the start of the meeting.

The county’s mill levy will remain the same as in 2016 at 43.416 and with one mill representing $1 per $1,000 in taxable property value, this produces $10,552,793 in property tax money. The total budget comes to $20,214,379, which is up over 2016 by under $1 million.

However, the spending package did not meet unanimous approval from the commissioners with the sole dissenter being Alicia Straub. She objected to $87,945 listed as miscellaneous contractional, noting that this was really earmarked for a new county human resources director, a position that has not been approved nor is even needed.

She argued that the total reserve transfers would be much less if this wasn’t included – from $130,000 to about $42,000.

“I am opposed. The county has other options that have not been fully explored.”

She was assured that no decision had been made and that the money could remain in a “holding fund” giving the county more spending options. “It offers us flexibility,” County Administrator Richard Boeckman said.

Also, Boeckman said, the HR position is not listed in the authorized position listing (which was approved later in the meeting).

During the hearing

According to Boeckman, there are increases in expenditures in the general fund due to hiring and salary increases in the County Attorney’s Office, but there was also a request for additional staff in the Sheriff’s Office. There are also slight increases in road and bridge, noxious weed, and solid waste, mostly attributed to a 50 cent across-the-board pay raise.

Other than wages expenditures for those departments are essentially the same as in 2016. There is also $5,200 for raises to the five commissioners.

“One might ask how the budget balances when the mill levy stays stable, there are no other revenues to replace the other revenues that were lost, and expenditures increase?” Boeckman said. The commissioners have tapped reserves. 

There were two transfers totaling $130,000. Those two transfers balance the budget and it is also unlikely there will be any year-end transfers into the general fund at the end of 2016 or 2017. 

“The commissioners made a significant policy decision to balance the budget with reserve moneys,” Boeckman said. “This is the equivalent of a household using saving to balance a budget.”

The County presently has healthy cash reserves. A one -time transfer of reserves will not adversely impact the County’s reserve position.

But, “is this action sustainable?” he said. It is certainly unclear what the 2018 budget will look like, but the 2018 budget has been very much in the minds of the commissioners as they prepared the 2017 budget.”

There will be a tax lid in place for the 2018 budget. However, staff has learned that increases in oil and gas valuations will not be impacted by the tax lid as that law is presently written.

If oil and gas valuations increase in 2018, the county will benefit. If those valuations do not increase, the commissioners will have other options they many consider to balance the 2018 budget. 

“In order to satisfy the requests of the county attorney, the sheriff, and other requests I have mentioned, the commissioners have made what hopefully will be a one-time decision to use some reserve moneys to fund the 2017 budget,” Boeckman said.

“Over the years I have noticed that each budget has specific challenges,” Boeckman said. The challenges for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 budgets have been similar.

The county has experienced revenue loss in each of the past three years due to declines in oil and gas valuations. “Barton County provides a variety of services to the taxpayers. Services are provided by the employees of the County. The overriding challenge for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 budgets has been how to provide quality services to the taxpayers of the county at an affordable price, ” he said.

In 2015, the county experienced a total revenue loss of $410,000. There were requests by the sheriff to increase pay for sheriff’s deputies and detention officers to make law enforcement pay competitive with other local cities and counties. The Commissioners provided a special raise for law enforcement, and provided a pay raise approximating 75 cents for other employees. The commissioners met that challenge by raising the mill levy 1.732 mills.

The 2016 budget presented similar but more substantial issues. The county revenue loss for the 2016 budget was $1,005,303. “Simply to fund the 2016 budget at 2015 levels, with some very minor expenditure increases, the Commissioners had to raise the mill levy 6 mills,” he said. 

That kept most expenditures at 2015 levels while providing expected services. There was no pay increase despite the fact department heads continued to express concerns county pay was not competitive.

“The 2017 budget presents similar challenges,” he said. Once again there is a revenue loss, although the 2017 revenue loss projections are not as dramatic and estimated at about $12,000.

The challenges in the 2017 budget remain similar to the 2015 and 2016 budgets. There is a revenue loss, but the expenditure demands remain similar to previous years. 

“How does the County continue to provide quality services at an affordable price?” the county administrator said. Part of the solution in the past two years was to offset revenue losses by raising the mill levy. 

But, “the commissioners made it clear early in the budget process this year that a mill levy increase was not an option,” he said. Expenditure pressures similar to past years remain an issue. 

Additionally, the county attorney and the sheriff have requested new employees, and the county attorney has requested raises for the attorneys to make their pay more competitive with salaries paid to county attorney and assistant county attorneys in other counties. There have been other requests to increase expenditures. A pay raise for employees remains an issue. 

“The challenge for the 2017 budget has been for the commissioners to decide what expenditure increases will occur without increasing the mill levy,” he said.