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Archive for Tuesday, May 28, 1996

97 BUDGET

May 28, 1996

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County commissioners say that any increase in the property tax burden won't come from them.

Next month Douglas County officials will begin sharpening their pencils to attack a 1997 budget which, according to all predictions, will be funded by a lower mill levy.

``The increase in the valuation is high enough that ... at worst we should have a stable mill levy,'' said County Administrator Craig Weinaug.

By being able to spread expenditures across a growing tax base, the county could let its spending increase slightly from year to year without increasing taxes.

Last year, county commissioners approved a $29.5 million budget for 1996. Without the inclusion of $4.65 million in projected sales tax revenue, which was earmarked for jail construction and other capital improvements, the budget increase was less than 2.5 percent, which is in line with the rate of inflation.

As a result, the 1996 budget shaved more than 4 mills off the levy against property taxes.

Taxpayers can expect the same frugality this year, when Weinaug presents his budget proposal in about four weeks, county commissioners say. They predict the county will hold the line even though two commissioners -- Jim Chappell and Louie McElhaney -- are retiring and would be spared the political fallout of more liberal spending.

``Don't think for one minute that because this commissioner is leaving office that I'm going to overlook saving money on the budget,'' Chappell said. ``If anything, it's going to be a tougher year because the pressure is off.''

Chappell, who called for a 5 percent reduction in spending last year, said he'd like to see the commission try to make cuts again this summer.

Although he hopes to be thrifty, McElhaney, the commission chairman, said there wasn't much fat in the budget that could be trimmed.

``If it's there, I wish somebody would show me where it is,'' he said. ``I think we've been working on a pretty lean budget in the past.''

In addition to hearing pleas for more money from county department heads, commissioners will receive requests from outside agencies that have not been included in the budget in the past. Those requests will be discussed during hearings in July.

Commissioner Mark Buhler said he didn't expect to see agencies added to the budget.

``If we do other than deal with the agencies we have historically funded, then I'll be surprised,'' Buhler said. ``My intention is to look at what we have now and how we can continue to fund them.''

Weinaug said commissioners will face a list of county-funded agencies that have been hit by federal and state grant cuts. Among agencies that have lost other revenue are the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and Visiting Nurses Assn.

Commissioners will face hard choices, Weinaug said.

``Do you decide to provide fewer health services to people who can least afford it or do you make up the difference with local property taxes?'' Weinaug asked.

``The county commission will either have to absorb the additional cost or say no,'' he said.

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