In other business Monday morning, the County Commission:
• Discussed repairs to the Arkansas River bridge south of Ellinwood which will begin this fall. County Engineer Clark Rusco reported he has received bids for the work. The low bidder was Bridges Inc., the same contractor that replaced the pin and hanger assemblies for the Ellinwood bridge and Radium Road bridge over the Arkansas, that bid $132,450.
The Commission ultimately selected Bridges Inc, which is headquartered in Newton. The other bidder was L&M Contractors of Great Bend whose bid was $1,900 higher.
Although it was noted that L&M was a local company, all of the Bridges Inc. employees working on this project will be from Great Bend, and the company has other ties to the community as well.
Replaced will be the expansion joints which allow the bridge deck to expand and contract with the changes in temperature. The joints rusted and are stuck in the expanded position.
Construction will begin after corn harvest this fall, Nov. 18, and will be completed by Feb. 2, 2014. During the project, the bridge will be open to one-lane traffic while crews are working and to two-way traffic when they are not working.
• Commissioners Don Davis and Jennifer Schartz will attend the National Association of Counties annual conference in Tarrant County, (Fort Worth) Texas, the weekend of July 19-22. As a result, the Commission activities of Monday, July 22, are postponed and the agenda and study sessions, as needed, will be held at 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 24.
In giving his budget presentation to the Barton County Commission Monday morning, County Administrator Richard Boeckman, said the county’s mill levy has been anything but consistent over the past few years.
However, by proposing the .75 mill increase for the 2014 budget, he said the Commission is going a long ways towards changing that. In the budget approved for publication Monday, the mill rate goes from 34.865 mills to 35.615.
Total expenditures, less transfers, comes to $18,770,857. Last year, the total was $18,183,738.
The next step in the county’s budget process will the hearing set for 9 a.m. July 29 in Commission chambers at the courthouse. The entire budget process this year is about two weeks ahead of normal, Boeckman said.
“Taxpayers like a stable mill levy,” Boeckman said. This stability has been a goal of the administrator and the Commission.
So why an increase? The county tapped its cash reserves starting in 2009 to help keep the mill rate lower to help residents deal with the floundering U.S. economy.
“But, that’s not a sustainable position in the long run,” Boeckman said. The cash at-hand dropped from $3,764,035.52 in 2009 to $2,026,136 in 2012.
Commissioners upped the property tax rate from 32.099 in 2012 to 34.865 last year to start to offset this decline. Bolstered by an increase in property valuation in Barton County, the 2014 hike will continue this trend.
One mill is equal to $1 of tax per $1,000 of property valuation. Due to a valuation increase, each mill this year yields $273,000. There is an estimated valuation increase of $,679,242, which results in increased revenue of approximately $163,141.
To put the increase in prospective, Commission Chairman Don Cates said the median house in Barton County costs $72,500 and is assessed at $8,337. One additional mill would mean $8.38 per year, and the 3/4 mill proposed would mean $6.28, or 1.7 cents per day.
As for the reserves, “cash is important for several reasons,” Boeckman said. It helps fund the following year’s budget, keeps debt low by allowing cash purchases (the county has no debt now), and helps to stabilize the mill levy.
The proposed budget calls for a 4.41 percent increase in general fund spending and an across-the-board 25 cents-per-hour increase in wages (slightly higher for the Barton County Sheriff’s Office). It also includes the elimination of the County Records Department, with the duties spread among other offices (this meant a net loss of one position, but both employees have found other county jobs).
Most accounts under the general fund will remain unchanged. Some will see a slight increase and others a decrease.
“The county provides a lot of services,” Boeckman said.
Some of those are provided by Sunflower Diversified Services, which will see a $5,000 cut under the proposed spending package. Sunflower Executive Director Jim Johnson was at the meeting.
“I just want to express my disappointment,” he said. “Children with special needs and their families are so adversely affected. These are just as critical as any other services.”
This would bring Sunflower’s funding to $15,000 for 2014. It is Johnson’s understanding that the Commission plans to reduce funding $5,000 each year until the agency receives no more county money.
Sunflower received $50,000 in 2010, but that was totally eliminated in the 2011 budget, Chairman Cates said. That was probably too abrupt, so the Commission restored the funding to $25,000 in 2012.
Following the planned path, the total was $20,000 in 2013, Cates said.
Johnson appreciated the reprieve on the funding, but remained concerned about the future. “Just give some thought to the long-range needs of people.”
Sunflower covers a five-county area and Johnson said the other four counties are not planning to cut their support.
Additional worries were expressed by Reva Dougherty of the Barton County Extension Council, which will see a 10 percent cut to $180,000. “Think about all the people we serve,” she said.
From agriculture programs, to 4-H to school programs that promote leadership, “we affect a large part of our community.”
Boeckman said these issues and others can also be brought up during the hearing.
The 2014 Operating Budget recommendations were developed through the cooperative efforts of the Boeckman, elected officials, department heads and those outside agencies receiving funding from the county.
The public notice sets the maximum tax levy and budget expenditures for the 2014 operating year. From this point on, the county can reduce its spending request, but not increase it unless the budget is republished.