Douglas County commissioners opened budget hearings Monday morning, reviewing specific spending plans while wrestling with an overall document that would increase property taxes by 16.6 percent.
County Administrator Craig Weinaug may have compiled the recommended $69 million budget — taking ideas and suggestions from commissioners, department heads and others — but it will be the three elected commissioners who decide exactly which initiatives get included, and how they’ll be financed.
“Now it’s in our hands,” Commissioner Jim Flory said.
Monday’s budget hearings covered spending plans for seven departments, programs and initiatives, including the proposed hiring of:
• a psychiatrist for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center;
• a full-time director for the Watkins Community Museum of History, which would use private money for new exhibits and programs, and;
• one of three new dispatchers for the county’s emergency dispatch center.
All of the additions would be financed through an increase in property taxes. Taken together with a number of fund-replenishments, work-force compensation, capital-improvement projects and other proposals — including $500,000 for economic development and $500,000 for heritage-related efforts and preservation of open space — the total bill would be equivalent to 5.44 mills, or 16.6 percent higher than this year.
With each mill equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed valuation, the county’s increase would be equal to $93.84 for the owner of a $150,000 home.
Commissioners did not make any commitments about which spending plans they would approve, although some did offer a few insights.
Flory, for example, submitted a list of cuts for consideration. Among them: Eliminate the full-time director for Watkins ($75,000), and drop the county’s financing for one of three proposed dispatchers ($41,309). The Bert Nash psychiatrist would remain in his budget.
Thellman asked questions of presenters, but did not propose any cuts. Instead, she noted that the county’s current property tax rate ranks as the 12th lowest among the 105 counties in Kansas.
“Not that it makes a discussing the mill levy any easier, but it’s important to put it into context,” Thellman said.
Commissioners continue budget hearings at 8 a.m. Tuesday, and have more discussions set for next week before making formal decisions for the coming year.