Barton County Commissioner Jennifer Schartz summed up the sentiments of county officials from across in two sentences.
“It’s tough out there,” she said. “It’s going to continue to be tough.”
Schartz was addressing the feelings expressed at the 2015 Kansas Association of Counties meeting last week in Wichita. She was joined by fellow Commissioners Alicia Straub and Don Davis, Commission Chairman Kenny Schremmer and Road and Bridge Director Dale Phillips in giving reports about the conference during Monday morning’s commission meeting.
Key topics of the three-day gathering were the KAC’s legislative agenda for 2016, the perils of the pending property tax lid being imposed by the state, land values and the use of technology. Also addressed was the impact of downturns in the oil and gas industry, which seems to be a hot-button issue.
“If misery loves company, then we were in good company,” Schartz said. “The climate in the state is not very positive right now.”
But, she said, Barton County could be in a lot worse shape than it is thanks to prudent use of tax dollars. Other counties are having to make cuts and juggle funding.
Meanwhile, “we are at least holding our own right now,” she said.
Straub was Barton County’s voting delegate at the meeting and she said the tax lid was the number one issue with officials wanting it repealed or reworked.
The tax lid was passed by the 2015 Legislature. In short, it bars cities and counties from raising new revenue without a public vote, and then provided no meaningful way for an election to occur.
The legislation was initially to be effective in 2018 but was passed with an effective date of 2016, which means it would have impacted the present budget. That legislation provided no ability whatsoever for cities and counties to prepare for the lid.
As it is now, it will go into effect in 2018 date and impact that year’s budget.
Another big concern was a proposal by eastern Kansas lawmakers to change the way farm land is valued. Currently, it is basically based on the ground’s production, but the change would value it similar to residential properties.
With crop and livestock markets down now, this would be crippling to area farmers, Schremmer said.
County Appraiser Barb Esfeld echoed that thought. “That is not a good idea, That is not the answer.”
Granted, revenue dollars need to be found somewhere, “but not there,” she said. “This is going to be an import year to attend our coffees and our legislative coffees,” she said, adding residents need to bend the ears of local legislators.
Straub was also interested in the wide range of age groups represented at the meeting. “There were county officials from different generations.”
This highlighted the gap in technological awareness. “I think it’s important to stay up with the times,” she said.
Davis agreed. “Social media, that’s the thing now.”
He said the county needs to do more with its digital presence, like advertise and offer job applications. “People are looking for answers quicker. The younger generation is going to be doing what we are doing now.”
Davis said he also heard a lot of positive comments from other attendees on local progress with hiking and bicycling opportunities. “That’s a positive outlook for Barton County.”
Phillips said he attended a presentation on succession plans for employees. As long-time workers retire, it is important to have a plan in place to replace them.
Barton County doesn’t have a lot of turn-over, but Phillips said departments need to be prepared with training and other systems in place.