Douglas County Sheriff Rick Trapp wants to hire four new deputies next year, but the county's budget squeeze is blowing holes in his three-year plan to bolster courtroom security, boost patrols and ease pressures on prisoner transportation.
"We want to do it, we'd like to do it and there's justification for doing it, but there probably isn't room in the budget to do it," said Bob Johnson, chairman of the county commission. "Or at least not all of it."
Trapp's request for $188,000 was among the last presentations made to commissioners Tuesday, their second day of hearings on a proposed $45.6 million county budget for 2004.
After hearing all the requests from county departments, social-service agencies and others commissioners are set to settle in Monday for the next round of deliberations: deciding how much money to cut, supplement or otherwise shift to come up with a spending plan. And, by extension, determine how much of a property-tax increase county residents can put up with.
"We plead with you: Hold down taxes," said Dan Cashatt, leader of the Douglas County Property Owners Assn., a group of about 135 residents opposed to property-tax increases. "In our government today, sometimes it seems like we're talking about, 'How much can we tax people before they revolt?' I hope you don't move in that direction."
Going into next week's hearings set to begin at 9 a.m. Monday at the County Courthouse, 1100 Mass. the county's proposed budget calls for a 10.4 percent boost in property-tax rates, enough to cost the owner of a $150,000 home another $49.85. The county levy would go up 2.89 mills to 30.71 mills; a mill equals $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in a property's assessed valuation.
But commissioners aren't committed to the tax boost, or at least not all of it. Commissioner Jere McElhaney came into meetings this week with a list of suggestions for $1.5 million in cuts, enough to nearly erase the tax increase recommended by Craig Weinaug, county administrator.
Johnson said he intended to push for a tax increase, but he expected it to drop from Weinaug's recommendation. Commissioner Charles Jones said he wanted to wait and see what suggestions surfaced before tipping his hand on the tax issue.
While negotiations are set to begin Monday, commissioners managed to settle a few issues Tuesday:
- The Shelter will not get another $20,000 to keep a program afloat that allows problem juveniles to avoid going to court by completing a diversion program. Instead, Shelter officials will be left to charge for the service. Johnson suggested setting the "sliding scale" fee at $1,000 for the most wealthy participants and their parents.
- Watkins Community Museum of History wants $30,000 to hire an exhibits coordinator, but its prospects are brighter for getting $20,000 to produce a "Bleeding Kansas" exhibit.
- The sheriff's request for four new deputies remains in Weinaug's recommended budget, but its fate remains on shaky ground. "It would be nice if we could give everyone everything they wanted, but we have to get our justice and law-enforcement costs under control," Jones said.