Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday approved a process for distributing $325,000 next year for cultural and heritage conservation projects, despite concerns by one commissioner that the county could find itself in deep financial trouble after those grants have already been awarded.
"I have a continuing problem with funding this from property tax dollars, especially in light of what we've learned recently," Commissioner Jim Flory said.
Flory, the lone Republican on the commission, has never been a strong supporter of the program. But he said he had specific concerns about using general fund dollars this coming year because of uncertainty about the 2013 budget and what may happen to state funding for various programs during the upcoming legislative session.
The schedule for next year's grant program calls for applications to be submitted by March 15. Those applications would be reviewed and scored by the Heritage Conservation Council, with final review and approval of the grants by the County Commission around April 24.
Flory tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to push the final award date back until sometime after July 1, when the new state fiscal year starts. By that time, Flory said, county officials will have a better idea of their own budget situation as well as that of programs that receive state funding such as the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and Douglas County Senior Services, Inc.
"We have no idea what may occur with respect to our financial situation and those of the agencies we support," Flory said. "Specifically I think we should delay the application process until July 1 when we'll know what's transpired at the Legislature. By then, we'll have a much better handle on what our budget situation is."
But the two other commissioners, both Democrats, said they saw no need for a delay.
Commissioner Nancy Thellman, one of the original architects of the heritage grant program, said many of the projects that could be funded with county money may also qualify for federal preservation grants, and the proposed schedule coincided with deadlines to apply for federal grants. Delaying the process, she said, could disqualify some of those projects from qualifying for federal funds.
Commission Chairman Mike Gaughan said the commission has the flexibility to decide in April whether to proceed with awarding grants or to wait until the end of the session.
In other business, the commission:
• Authorized year-end fund transfers and budget adjustments for the county's ambulance, road and bridge, employee benefits, special alcohol, and grants funds.
• Approved spending $26,247.50 from the 2012 budget to perform software and hardware upgrades to the county's 911 telephone system.
• Approved a plan to consolidate all subscriber radio equipment for Douglas County under a single master service and maintenance agreement through the state of Kansas with Motorola Solutions at an estimated cost of $25,000.
• Approved a service and maintenance contract with Motorola Solutions for Douglas County Emergency Communications at a cost of $76,834.48, funded through the county's 911 Fee Fund.
• And received an update on the county's sustainability initiatives.