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Chat about the county's 2008 budget with Commissioner Bob Johnson

July 23, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

County Commissioner Bob Johnson

A budget that reduces the mill levy was approved Wednesday night by the Douglas County Commission. The decrease is slight - .013 of a mill - but it more than met the commissioners' goal of fighting off an increase. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. The county's reduction comes at a time when the Lawrence public schools and the city of Lawrence are increasing their levies. County commissioners said they felt a special need to hold down their budget because of those increases. Commissioner Bob Johnson will be on hand to take questions.

Moderator:

Good morning. This is Dennis Anderson, managing editor of the Lawrence Journal-World. Our guest today is Bob Johnson, Douglas County commissioner. Welcome Bob.

County Commissioner Bob Johnson:

Hi Dennis. Nice to be here!

Moderator:

This is a somewhat unusual budget season for the county. There will not be a mill increase for the county, meaning the tax rate will remain the same. What spending was cut to make that happen?

County Commissioner Bob Johnson:

The good news is there are no tax cuts in our 2008 budget. We were able to fund a few new positions and provide additional monies to most departments and agencies that we support. We were not able to fund all request for additional or new funds, but no cuts!

Moderator:

What projects would you have liked to initiate next budget year that you didn't because you wanted to hold the tax rate steady?

County Commissioner Bob Johnson:

We considered setting aside some money to fund economic development incentives, with the idea of increasing our non-residential tax base. Also, we considered funding an additional staff person to work with the rentry program for people leaving jail and returning to the community. in the end, we decided not to raise the mill levy to accomplish these goals. Maybe next year!

Moderator:

Here is a question from a reader.

lunacydetector:

how much money do county commissioners make per year?

what areas of the county does each respective commissioner represent?

is there any chance of the planning department splitting, with the county having its own planning department and the city of lawrence having its own planning department?

thank you.

County Commissioner Bob Johnson:

I don't recall the exact number, but I think it is abour $32000. per year. Each of the three commissioners is elected by voters in one of three districts. I believe we try to represent the people of Douglas County as a whole, not just looking out for residents of a particular district. Of course, we probably respond more to the people in the district that elects us, but not at the expense of the county as a whole. I think it is very unlikely that the planning commission will be split between the city and the rural area. I certainly do not support this idea.

Moderator:

Lawrence City Manager David Corliss and County Administrator Craig Weinaug debated in the Journal-World last week about funding the health care and who pays for what. Both the city and the county fund the department. In essence, Corliss said he is concerned that because city taxpayers also pay taxes to the county and are being taxed twice for the service. Weinaug, among other points, said that city residents use the majority of the services. Where do you stand on the issue?

County Commissioner Bob Johnson:

The interlocal agreement that set up the joint funding of the health dept. was created several years ago. It was done by people who were trying to improve the service to all the people of Douglas County. I think it is a good idea to have these interlocal agreements, which I believe tend to improve service and hold down cost. They should all be reviewed from time to time to make sure they still meet the objective which was intended. If the cost sharing, or funding, gets out of whack, it should be adjusted. The County Commission has repeatedly said we are willing to review each of these agreements and make adjustments that appear necessary. We just don't believe it should be done in the context of a budget. I think we are going to have discussions this fall and I expect we can resolve any differences that might exist. I do not buy the argument that city property owners are paying twice. The cost is what it is and we as taxpayers have to pay it. If 100 percent of the health dept. cost is to be borne by the county, the county mill levy must increase and the city mill levy will decrease by same amount. If that serves the people better, let's do it! But, if the city mill levy does not go down, has the city tax payer saved money? If it goes down, then comes back up, who now is being taxed twice?

meburr:

What is the status of the county's pay grade schedule? There had been talk of wage survey for all county employees when the commissioners and other elected officials received their generous wage increase. We haven't seen any further discussion on it.

County Commissioner Bob Johnson:

I think our county employees are paid competively with our neighboring government bodies. A year ago we check to make sure the elected officials and dept heads were also being paid competively. That led us to revise the pay scale for Treasurer, Clerk, and Sheriff. And, as we all remember, the Commissioners.

Moderator:

One of the reasons county commissioners gave for wanting to not increase the tax rate was because of anticipated tax rate increases for the city and school district. How might commissioners react if the school district or city don't increase the their mill levy?

County Commissioner Bob Johnson:

We'll jump with joy! We didn't fail to do what we thought was responsible, we just tried harder to not take on any new programs because we didn't feel it was the right time considering the schoo district and city were making comments that would cause one to believe they would be forced to raise their mill levy. To us it made sense to try to be respectful of what they might have to do, and if we could hold the line, it would be a lighter load for the taxpayer. If they can hold the line, we all are better off!

Moderator:

We are out of time. I want to thank Bob Johnson for joining us today.

County Commissioner Bob Johnson:

I enjoyed being here. It is good to have people interested in the budget and ask questions. Generally we only hear from people who want more funds.

Comments

kmj83 6 years, 9 months ago

hawkperchedatriverfront-- did you ever think that maybe he doesn't know exactly how much money he makes because he doesn't care? Personally...I would rather have someone in his position because they care about the people they are representing vs. what kind of salary they are making.... just a thought....

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6 years, 9 months ago

yeah right. I have looked at the City and County pay scales recently. A county worker that has been there for 6+ years could get a higher FIRST YEAR wage at the City for a similar position.

I bet the higher ups get a wage that is competitive!

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hipper_than_hip 6 years, 9 months ago

"I think our county employees are paid competively with our neighboring government bodies."

What neighboring government bodies are they comparing? Compared to the employees of Vinland or Hesper, I'm certain the pay is comparitive. Compared to Johnson County, the pay is about 33% less for Douglas county workers. Lawrence is the land of low wages.

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hawkperchedatriverfront 6 years, 9 months ago

The J/W is having editors meet at HyVee to let the public know what a nice paper they have. How about the city manager and staff meet us at Grandaddy's bar bq so the po folks east of Iowa can chit and chat over some ribs.

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KsTwister 6 years, 9 months ago

Smart man: "The cost is what it is and we as taxpayers have to pay it. If 100 percent of the health dept. cost is to be borne by the county, the county mill levy must increase and the city mill levy will decrease by same amount. If that serves the people better, let's do it! But, if the city mill levy does not go down, has the city tax payer saved money?If it goes down, then comes back up, who now is being taxed twice?"

Would be nice to have city managers who could calculate as well. Great argument.

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hawkperchedatriverfront 6 years, 9 months ago

WHAT? This guy is a paid commissioner and he does not know how much he makes. He "thinks"? This is tooooooooo much. He didn't discuss the benefits either.

Johnson needs to go ASAP>

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Nick Combs 6 years, 9 months ago

That is the best picture in the history of the Journal World.

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