County approves 2014 draft budget

7/9/2013

Public hearing set for Aug. 5.

Public hearing set for Aug. 5.

BY SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

After several hours of looking for cuts, the Finney County Commission on Monday approved a 2014 draft budget of $35.5 million that includes a nearly two-mill increase in the property tax levy compared to this year.

The budget won't be final until after an Aug. 5 public hearing. During Monday's budget workshop, commissioners were faced with a 4.9-mill increase that would have funded all departments and outside agencies at the amount each requested.

Commissioners initially hoped to make enough cuts to limit the increase to less than a mill.

"If we're going to keep this to a one-mill increase, we're going to have to start chopping," Commissioner Larry Johnson said.

After making several cuts, mostly to outside agency requests, the commission ended up with a proposed mill levy of 39.109 mills for next year, a 1.989-mill increase over 2013.

"We may be to the point where we have to raise the mill levy. I'm beginning to believe our hands are tied," Commissioner Cliff Mayo said.

In general, the commission made cuts that reduced funding requests from several outside agencies to the same level of funding they received this year. Some of the larger cuts included reducing Area Mental Health's request by $55,000, to $150,000; K-State Extension by $20,000, to $200,000; Committee on Aging by $50,000, to $330,000; Southwest Developmental Services by $132,000, to $95,000; and Russell Child Development Center by $73,000, to $95,000.

Some of the other changes made included moving $500,000 from the employee benefit fund into the general fund, and transferring $350,000 from the landfill fund to the general fund. The commission felt both those funds had built up a substantial reserve that could be reduced.

The county also reduced the district court budget by $155,000, which was essentially the amount the court included next year for a metal detector at the courthouse to comply with the state's new concealed carry law. The proposed court budget would be $870,000 next year.

The courthouse is under a six-month exemption from implementing the law, which allows those with concealed-carry permits to bring handguns into public buildings unless adequate security measures are in place. Without funding from the county, it wasn't immediately clear whether the court will find another funding source or go without a metal detector.

Some commissioners felt the state should pick up more of the cost for certain outside agency funding requests.

"My concern is the more the state cuts, the more we are expected to pick up. I disagree with that," Commissioner Roman Halbur said.

The proposed budget includes a 4 percent salary increase for employees, which involves a 2 percent cost of living raise at the beginning of the year and another 2 percent set aside for performance pay throughout the year.

The pay increases amount to a little more than a mill at a cost of just less than $696,000. One of the commission's budget goals for this year was to take care of employees and department budgets first before considering the needs of outside agencies.

"In the past, we've always done employees last. I think we should do them first," Halbur said.

When asked after the meeting if he was satisfied with the proposed budget, Commissioner Dave Jones said yes and no.

"It's always a challenge, and a difficult thing to balance between the perceived needs of the employees and entities seeking help from the budgeting process, and on the other side trying to protect the taxpayers. We do the best we can. Hopefully, what we did was fair to all concerned," he said.

Jones said employee salaries were a major challenge, but the commission felt it was important to make pay more competitive.

"For a number of years, our employees have been getting farther and farther behind in competitive pay, and we continue to lose employees. Good employees are worth keeping, so we're trying to figure out how we can afford to do that," Jones said.

At the Aug. 5 public hearing, the commission could make additional changes that lower or shuffle some numbers around, but the levy and budget cannot be increased over the published draft budget.

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