Douglas County residents can expect more jail guards, improved drainage in rural areas and continued after-school programs -- without an increased property-tax rate -- as part of the county's proposed $47.5 million operating budget for next year.
The most visible budget moves could start within weeks.
Tuesday morning, county commissioners wrapped up budget discussions for next year by agreeing to take on two major construction project's by year's end:
- Transform an under-utilized work-release area at the County Jail into a secure area for jailing medium-security inmates. Estimated cost: $300,000.
- Overhaul restrooms, add a kitchen and replace carpets at the Watkins Community Museum of History. Estimated cost: up to $60,000, a total that would include extending the contract of a fund-raising consultant through the first six months of 2005.
Commissioners agreed to the projects in concept Tuesday, saying that the work -- especially at the jail -- was too important to wait.
The jail project would relieve overcrowding that has triggered a spike in overtime expenses and forced inmates to be kept at other jails, commissioners said, while the Watkins work would help the museum generate rental fees and draw donations.
"The investment of this little bit of money will more than pay off," Charles Jones, commission chairman, predicted.
The projects came as commissioners approved changes to their recommended operating budget for next year. Among the decisions reached Tuesday:
- Wages for all county employees will increase 2 percent next year, raises commonly known as the cost-of-living adjustment. Merit pay raises will average another 2 percent per employee, down from the 2.5 percent recommended by Craig Weinaug, county administrator.
- Court-appointed defense attorneys will continue to earn $50 an hour, rather than the $65 an hour recommended by leaders in Douglas County District Court.
- Two employees will be hired to start a crew designated to clear drainage culverts in rural areas. The employees also will help with road maintenance and snow-clearing efforts. Cost: $67,500.
- The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department will get another planner, to help meet increasing demands for services. The county will contribute $10,200 toward the position, which is jointly financed by the city of Lawrence.
- K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County will get $27,000 to offset the loss of a $30,000 grant that provides after-school programs for about 150 elementary students in Lawrence public schools, in cooperation with the Boys and Girls Club.
- Douglas County Visiting Nurses will have to wait until later this year to appeal for an additional $79,000 in financing, money the agency had hoped to receive to help offset an estimated $240,000 shortfall by year's end. Commissioners said the county could not afford to give the agency extra money until the agency submitted a clear plan for addressing its financial challenges.
The proposed 29.856 mill levy is essentially the same as the 2003 levy.
Commissioners intend to approve the budget Aug. 11, after conducting a final public hearing.