Douglas County commissioners are pondering what could be a 2 to 3 mill increase in its 2009 budget, even with reductions in services.
All three commissioners said they are opposed to a 5-plus mill levy increase, which would be necessary to continue the same level of services the 2008 budget provides.
During Monday budget discussions, Commissioner Bob Johnson said he could support a 3 mill increase to support capital improvements, economic development initiatives and basic county operations.
Commissioners Charles Jones and Jere McElhaney said they were leaning more toward a
2 mill or lower overall increase.
"I would say nobody is off the hook," Jones said.
And that includes personnel, Jones said, although he stopped short of saying there would be job cuts.
"We're not going to be able to get through this without having a serious discussion about personnel costs," he said.
As a county resident, a tax increase will be difficult to take, McElhaney said.
"As a commissioner I've got to make a responsible decision," he added.
McElhaney said he is reluctant to drastically cut public works and law enforcement.
A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. A
1 mill increase in the county budget amounts to about $1.1 million, County Administrator Craig Weinaug said.
Increased costs, mainly because of fuel and employee health insurance, along with declining property valuations and weak sales tax revenue are among issues affecting the 2009 budget, Weinaug has said.
Johnson said he thinks the county should annually set aside 1 mill for economic development. Even if the money were not spent, a fund would be there when opportunities appear, he said. He said more needs to be done to make the county attractive to new businesses. More economic development will help alleviate future economic downturns, he said.
"If we don't do something about that then we're going to be fighting that problem for years and years," Johnson said.
The effect budget cuts will have became apparent during talks with some county-supported agencies and department heads on Monday. A variety of options have been presented by county officials for getting down to 2 or 3 mill increases. Potential cuts range from 5 percent to 40 percent. Commissioners have the final say and can come up with their own budget formulas.
The county provides funds to Cottonwood Inc., which has programs and jobs for the developmentally disabled. It could see budget cuts of 5 percent or 30 percent. Cottonwood Director Sharon Spratt said a 30 percent cut could mean closure or reductions in its program for disabled retirees who have suffered from strokes and seizures.
"That would really give us pause," Spratt said of dealing with a 30 percent cut.
A 30 percent cut to the Lawrence Humane Society could mean discontinuing 24-hour dog pickups and other reductions, director Midge Grinstead said.
Cuts would also affect maintenance at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds, said Bill Bell, county building and grounds director.
Commissioners, however, say some cuts to fairgrounds maintenance and cuts to some other budget items would be like dropping off from what is now an A-plus service, a level that the county can't afford this year.
"We've had it so good for so long," McElhaney said.
Commissioners will continue budget discussions starting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Discussions are expected to continue into next week.