Already faced with calls for a 10 percent jump in county property taxes, Douglas County commissioners are turning a compassionate-yet-skeptical ear toward departments and agencies hungry for money next year.
"They're doing their job," said Bob Johnson, commission chairman. "They're trying to find the money for them to continue to provide the services that the community has come to expect. Our job is to see that those services are provided as best they can, while recognizing our budget constraints."
Monday afternoon, commissioners heard several requests for money -- money above and beyond the $45.6 million outlined in the county's proposed operating budget for 2004, as recommended by County Administrator Craig Weinaug.
Among the requests for extra financing:
- $139,000 for the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, to offset the loss of state subsidies for clients too well-off to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to afford health insurance.
- $16,000 for the Douglas County Extension Service, which is poised to lay off an employee if it can't find money to offset a cut in state funds that once covered insurance premiums.
- $67,000 for Douglas County Visiting Nurses Assn., which is losing reimbursements for in-home visits to some of its frail elderly clients.
Such requests don't include the additional spending already included in Weinaug's recommended budget, which calls for a 2.89-mill increase in the county's property-tax rate -- a 10.4 percent increase, or enough to add $49.85 to the tax bill for the owner of a $150,000 home. A mill equals $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.
With the increase, the county would restore some of the money cut late last year by the Kansas Legislature, plus hire a few new employees.
Sheriff Rick Trapp intends to hire four new deputies -- two for transporting prisoners, plus one each to bolster patrol and court-security operations. Total cost: $188,886.
Jim Denney, the county's director of emergency communications, is set to hire three new dispatchers to keep up with an increasing load of calls for police, fire and other emergency services. Total cost to the county: $30,051, after an anticipated $7,650 in overtime costs.
Commissioners say they aren't yet ready to commit to approving the increases to either department, but they welcomed at least one piece of budgetary good news Monday: Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical doesn't intend to hire three new firefighters next year, because the money won't be included in the city of Lawrence's recommended budget for next year.
That means Weinaug can cut about $50,000 out of his recommended county budget.
Commissioners resume budget hearings at 9 a.m. today at the county courthouse, 1100 Mass.