Douglas County commissioners signed off Wednesday on a $44 million budget for next year, already with an eye toward 2004.
And they don't like what they see.
"It's going to be a dynamic year," a diplomatic Commissioner Charles Jones said.
During their weekly meeting, commissioners approved a 2003 budget that will dip into reserve funds to help offset revenue cuts mandated by the Kansas Legislature and other state agencies.
They also agreed to keep track of the state's dwindling finances. That way, county officials could start cutting into projects and programs early in what would be a pre-emptive attempt to lessen the budgetary pain for 2004.
"I think it'll be more of the same next year," said Craig Weinaug, county administrator. "Just worse."
The county's 2003 budget essentially will hold the line on most basic county services, such as road maintenance, while a handful of others will get additional money. The county's emergency dispatch center, for example, will be able to add employees to help improve handling of emergency calls for law enforcement, fire and ambulance services.
County employees will receive a 3 percent pay raise.
The county's property tax rate will drop by 0.2 percent. The owner of a $150,000 house will pay $480 in property taxes for next year's budget, a savings of $1.02 from a year ago.
Commissioners started the budget process last year by giving a clear directive to Weinaug and his hired department heads: Do not propose an increase in the tax rate.
"We reached our goal," said Jere McElhaney, commission chairman. "We just barely reached our goal, but we reached our goal, and I think we should be proud of our accomplishment."
Still commissioners are wary of the next budget process, given the state's increasingly dire revenue projections. And with a new governor taking office in January, the resulting shakeups in state agencies could bring even more uncertainty to an already shaky budget picture.
Jones suggested the county step up its lobbying efforts at the Statehouse.
"There are a lot of things that can fall through the cracks," he said. "We'd better be prepared to defend our interests."
In other action Wednesday, commissioners approved Verizon Wireless' plans to add equipment to an existing communications tower at 1761 N. 1100 Road, southeast of Lawrence.