A budget that reduces the mill levy was approved Wednesday night by the Douglas County Commission.
The decrease is slight - .013 of a mill - but it more than met the commissioners' goal of fighting off an increase. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.
The county's reduction comes at a time when the Lawrence public schools and the city of Lawrence are increasing their levies. County commissioners said they felt a special need to hold down their budget because of those increases.
"I think the commission went in with the understanding that we were going to hold the line on the levy, and we stuck to our initiative and our goal and we succeeded," Commissioner Jere McElhaney said.
To get the mill levy decrease, commissioners approved more than $700,000 in reductions from the budget initially proposed a couple of weeks ago by County Administrator Craig Weinaug. Weinaug's proposal called for a three-quarters of a mill increase over this year's levy.
The 2006 mill levy, which supported this year's county government budget, was 30.013 mills. The new levy will be 30 mills which will support the 2008 budget.
Earlier this week, commissioners came up with more than $500,000 in proposed spending reductions and asked Weinaug to come up with another $186,000 in reductions to keep from increasing the levy. On Wednesday, Weinaug and Assistant County Administrator Pam Madl recommended reducing the amount of money set aside for risk management insurance. Their formula for doing that amounted to a savings of $200,000.
The risk management fund's end of the year cash balance was expected to be $668,992. The fund is used for catastrophes, such as a Greensburg type of tornado, Weinaug said. But the fund would be "a drop in the bucket" for that type of catastrophe and would still require tens of millions of dollars in relief from the state and federal levels, he said.
Commissioner Charles Jones voted for the budget even though he said he had reservations about making changes to an insurance fund, but he said he was generally happy with the budget decisions.
"I'm glad we didn't have to do any harm," he said. "On the other hand you always worry about if we put ourselves in a good position for next year, and I guess we'll find out next year."
Commissioner Bob Johnson, who spent a career in the insurance business, was less concerned.
"The good news is, if we have put ourselves in a tough position, then next year we've done it to ourselves and the three of us will be here," he said. "We'll have to look ourselves in the eyes and come to grips with whatever the reality is."
Among other recent budget highlights, commissioners:
¢ Reduced by $100,000 the amount put into a medical insurance reserve fund.
¢ Cut $388,000 in an economic development fund that would have been used to prepare land for industry was removed. Commissioners left $125,000 in the budget for the Kansas bioscience spec building.
¢ Allowed $63,480 for an employee at the jail to develop a program to help inmates re-enter society.
¢ Approved $18,195 to pay for overtime at Douglas County Youth Services.
¢ Cut an increase in spending for court operations by $18,600.
¢ Estimated an increase in sales tax collections at 1.5 percent, or $76,140.
Although commissioners approved the budget, a public hearing will be held sometime next month when they will formally adopt the budget.