In the middle of tough budget decisions, the governments of Douglas County and Lawrence are at a bit of a loggerheads.
Both the county and the city are discussing their respective proposed budgets for 2013. That’s two independent processes but many departments and agencies depend on funding from both bodies.
In this disagreement, the conflict is over Sheriff Ken McGovern’s request for four additional full-time emergency dispatchers (the people who answer calls to 911 and send out firefighters, medics and police). County administrator Craig Weinaug included $68,202, or 34 percent of the total cost, in his recommended budget, but city manager David Corliss didn’t add the city’s proposed $132,393 share.
The County Commission heard several funding requests from area agencies in a meeting Monday morning. The commissioners didn’t vote on anything — it’s rare even for them to express opinion on budget matters at this point in the process, but they did ask commission chair Mike Gaughan to send a letter to mayor Bob Schumm recommending the city commissioners talk about the proposal in their budget study session at 4 p.m. Tuesday. In the letter, Gaughan stresses that the county commissioners and the 911 Advisory Board “feel strongly” that emergency communications “has been understaffed for years.”
At the Monday meeting, McGovern said that the four new jobs were an “immediate need critical to public safety.”
“It’s not a want, it’s a need,” he said.
The sheriff can’t directly request funds from the city but the two other public safety departments that can — Lawrence Douglas County Fire-Medical and the Lawrence Police — didn’t mention any dispatchers in their funding requests.
Corliss’ recommended budget does include $3 million over three years for the emergency communication center, but that’s for an upgrade to the 911 radio system, not more staff. When it comes to public safety, that’s the higher priority, said Casey Toomay, budget manager for the city.
“Our resources are limited and we just don’t have the money,” Toomay said of the budget as it stands, which does increase property taxes slightly.
The request for more dispatchers is included in a memo on several, but not all, unfunded requests included in the city meeting info packet but the city commission hasn’t discussed it before, at least not publicly. It’s up to the five city commissioners if they talk about it Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the county commissioners talked about several others issues at their Monday morning meeting. They’ll “digest,” as commissioner Jim Flory put it, and then give Weinaug their input before reconvening next Monday. The other topics discussed included:
• Representatives from the Lawrence Community Shelter asked for $50,000 to help them get through this year, when they plan to open a new location at 3701 Franklin Park Circle. Loring Henderson and Joe Baker also asked for $100,000 in renewable funding to help “serve an increasing volume of needs,” Henderson said. LCS has about $900,000 in its budget for 2013, one-third of which comes from government sources. Baker said he expected to make it through the year with $40,000 in reserves, at best. The recommended county budget already includes $15,000 for the shelter.
• The Humane Society asked for $7,000 on top of the $28,000 it gets annually as well as $15,000 to repair its epoxy floors. Commissioner Jim Flory (R-3rd district) asked representative Dori Villalon which request was more important. She said fixing the floors because smooth floors help fight infections in the animals.
• Sarah Plinsky, assistant county administrator, led the talk about pay raises for county employees. She asked the commissioners to decide on a 1- to 3-percent increase, either in a lump sum — which is cheaper for the county but worse for staff retention and incentives, she said — or in base pay. County clerk Jamie Shew offered public comment in support of some kind of base pay increase, saying employees had “lived with only 1 percent (increase) for two years but they read in the paper that projects get funding and they internalize it,” leading to lower morale and a less competitive staff.