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Countys fighting for local control
As county commissioners meet this week, home rule and government mandates key topics
new deh commission KAC jennifer schartz mug
Jennifer Schartz

The Kansas Association of County’s 2016 Legislative Agenda includes:

1. Property Tax Lid – The KAC supports repealing the property-tax lid passed during the 2015 veto session, as the law is unworkable and runs afoul of local control. Local budgets should maximize self-governance by local officials.

If it is not repealed, Allen said it needs to be modified to be workable.

2. KPERS – KAC supports a balanced approach to a well-funded retirement system that enables recruitment and retention of good employees with reasonable costs to counties.

3. Transportation – We oppose any further sweeping of transportation funding and emphasize the need for adequate and dedicated dollars to build and preserve our state’s infrastructure.

4. Legislative advocacy – it supports the continued capacity for local officials to freely participate in the legislative process through advocacy and education on local issues.

5. County organization – As the state evaluates local government, KAC emphasizes the importance of local control and self-governance. It opposes any reorganization mandates.

6. Medicaid expansion – We support expansion of the Kansas Medicaid program to extend healthcare coverage for at-risk Kansans and support the pursuit of public health.

7. Emergency medical services – KAC supports a provider-assessment program for ambulance services in order to increase federal Medicaid payments. The program must be cost-neutral or benefit all ambulance services, and treat all ambulance services equally.

8. Federal taxes – KAC supports the preservation of federal tax deductions for local taxes and tax exemptions for municipal bonds.

9. Mental health and jails – The counties support limiting incarceration of the mentally ill in our jails, and we support greater effort for accessible treatment to address mental illness.

The KAC’s guiding policy statement includes:

1. Home rule – Members stand on the principle that government closest to the people will best understand and serve the community’s needs. Restrictive laws by the state and federal governments serve only to minimize effectiveness at the local level.

2. Local control – It supports local officials’ freedom to meet community needs by determining the most effective methods—particularly in the areas of government services, county budgets, eminent domain, and consolidation.

3. State restrictions – It opposes any legislation that increases county costs or decreases a county’s capacity to self-govern, manage financial resources, or participate in the legislative process.

4. Open government – It supports transparency policies that balance citizen access with other legitimate public interests, such as individual privacy and security.

5. Oversight of privatized services – KAC advocates for government oversight to ensure adequate service and fiscal responsibility for any privatized services.

6. Government efficiency – KAC supports policies that allow counties to operate more efficiently and freely collaborate to provide services. This includes broad freedom to repair county buildings, roads, bridges, sewer districts, and equipment.

 Barton County commissioners didn’t meet Monday morning except to canvass the votes from last Tuesday’s general election. But, that didn’t mean county business wasn’t on their minds.

The commissioners were headed to Overland Park for the Kansas Association of Counties annual conference which runs today through Thursday. And with the state in ill fiscal health, there is a lot for them to confer about.

An important item that will be discussed this week is the KAC Legislative Policy Statement. This will guide the KAC during the upcoming legislative session.

“The state is hemorrhaging,” said Randall Allen, KAC executive director. He spoke as he was preparing to leave his Topeka office for the meeting.

“The state’s budget is in such disarray,” he said. This is creating a lot of nervous uncertainty at the county level.

Home rule and local control have long been underpinnings of the association’s policy initiatives. Now,those seem to be increasingly under attack from the state and federal governments, Allen said.

“That’s pretty much our mantra,” Allen said. “That underlines all our policy statements.”

“We have too much interference from the state,” said Barton County Commissioner Jennifer Schartz, the county’s voting delegate at the conference. Member counties were called on to review the issues and determine the platform’s final form which Barton County commissioners did last week when Schartz made this comment.  

Her point was commissioners and other local elected officials have ties to their communities. So, they have a better understanding of what the needs are at home.

But, there are issues now.

“The state has to put its own fiscal house in order,” Allen said. Topeka must stop siphoning funds from such priorities as highway funding and corrections, all of which have a direct impact on local municipalities.

“Counties have to know what they will receive” in terms of state money, Allen said. This is crucial for community corrections, mental health funding and other areas where the state and counties share funding responsibilities.

Counties are the local service providers of state services, he said. “It trickles down in a big hurry.”

From taxation to transportation to public safety to health to relationships with federal agencies, county representatives have a lot on their plates, Allen said.