The Barton County Commission carries a heavy yoke into the Aug. 13 budget presentation and public hearing.
The budget the commission barely approved for publication Monday morning calls for total spending of $18,247,405 from a tax levy of 34.927 mills based on an assessed valuation of $268,256,071. In 2012, the total was $17,850,398 with a mill rate of 32.558 and a valuation of $257,270,901.
The budget also includes budget cuts and/or static spending by county departments. In addition, there is a 2-percent, across-the-board pay raise for county employees. The nearly three-mill increase in the levy and is the highest since 2009 when the levy was 33.810.
This comes as the as nation stands on the verge of slipping back into recession, a lingering drought plagues area farmers and falling oil prices threaten the oil patch. That is sort of a bleak forecast.
A sharply divided commission voted 3-2 to publish the spending package, but not until after some spirited discussion over spending cuts to avoid the tax hike and how those cuts might seriously jeopardize already stressed county services.
Both those for the budget and against it did agree that the county needed to quite tapping its reserves.
It was clear that both sides had valid points and were passionate about their stands.
There is not enough space here to argue the pros and cons of the county budget. The county over the years has shown the keen ability to operate efficiently. But, there is also always room for improvement.
What is clear is this – the debate Monday morning proved county officials are serious about looking after the best interests of county residents. There are just different interpretations of how to do this.
The commission should be applauded for not just rubber stamping the budget and closely looking at all sides of the issue. It is out of such debates that good policy is born. A divided commission is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of a governing body willing to tackle an important issue and look at all the angles.