Douglas County commissioners said Monday they were willing to increase the tax rate as much as a mill over last year's rate to support the county's 2007 budget.
Though no final decisions have been made during two budget discussions over the past few days, commissioners indicated there were areas where some increases, such as in public safety, are probably needed.
Cutting the proposed 30.18 mill levy in support of a $54.18 million budget is doable, "but we would do it at the expense of future generations," Commission Chairman Bob Johnson said.
Commissioners Charles Jones and Jere McElhaney agreed.
Instead, the mill levy rate could fluctuate as decisions are made about department and agency budget requests and how much money to set aside for future contingency funds.
A mill is a dollar of property tax for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.
During Monday's budget discussions, commissioners talked about reducing the proposed $700,000 expenditure for road-sealing contracts to $600,000. Commissioners said they would like to see a plan for handling road and bridge maintenance in future years.
"I still don't feel like we're getting the big picture of what we're going to do with our roads," Jones told county engineer and Public Works director Keith Browning.
Budgeting $700,000 would allow the sealing of about 47 miles of roadway. Commissioners said they would be willing to budget $600,000 and allocate more later if needed.
Road overlay expenditures were placed at $382,800.
Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson will be online today to talk about the 2007 budget, Lecompton bridge, South Lawrence Trafficway and other issues. He will be live online at 1:30 p.m. at ljworld.com.
Emergency Communications Center director Jim Denney sought funding to hire four new dispatchers to have four or five dispatchers per shift. The center is funded mostly by the city of Lawrence, so the county's portion of the bill would be $49,025.
Last year, dispatchers handled 46,800 emergency 911 calls out of more than 200,000 calls to the center. Calls are increasing each year, as is the likelihood for mistakes, Denney said.
Commissioners, however, asked if there was a better way of handling non-emergency phone calls. They also noted purchases of dispatching and mobile data equipment made during the past few years.
"We spend a huge amount on technology that is supposed to be more efficient," McElhaney said.
Though approval of the Lawrence city budget also is pending, it calls for money to hire one new dispatcher. Johnson said he thought the county should follow the city's lead, while McElhaney said he was willing to fund all four dispatch positions. Jones said he would support two positions.
Sheriff Ken McGovern said he wanted $63,889 to hire a legal adviser to keep his office appraised on changes in laws and regulations concerning jail operations. An adviser also would track legislation affecting the sheriff's office, advise on search-warrant decisions and keep the department out of civil lawsuits.
Commissioners suggested funding an adviser but not spending any money until additional study is given to hiring a private law firm. They also want the county to explore establishing its own in-house legal staff.
Commissioners also said they favored providing $50,000 for a feasibility study about the possibility of establishing a halfway house to assist prisoners leaving jail.
A third request from McGovern to fund two new jail officers got little response. He said he wanted to move two current corrections officers into the patrol division.
Other funding requests were:
l Douglas County Youth Services wants to hire two corrections officers at a cost of $78,590. The money is included in the budget proposal.
l The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department wants to hire someone to handle historic preservation matters at a cost of $70,193. The county's one-sixth share would be $11,699.
l The department also seeks a planner to handle implementation of new subdivision regulations. The City of Lawrence proposes that the county pay 75 percent of the $52,645 cost. That strays from a long-standing agreement that the county pay one-sixth of planning department costs. County commissioners said they opposed changing that agreement now, but they are willing to negotiate a change later.