Douglas County commissioners today agreed to a preliminary 2014 budget that would fund several programs and services that were recently cut from the state budget while providing most of the county's roughly 408 full- and part-time employees a pay raise.
The draft budget calls for $64.6 million in total spending by the county next year. Of that, nearly $43 million would come from local property taxes.
That's an increase of $1.9 million in property tax dollars, or roughly a 4.8 percent increase over this year's budget.
For the owner of a $200,000 home, that would mean $854.31 in property taxes next year, an increase of $31.62 over this year.
The biggest part of that increase, $821,000, would fund salary adjustments for county employees. That includes a 1 percent cost of living increase for all employees.
And for the roughly 320 employees who are eligible for benefits — mainly full-time permanent positions — the budget also sets aside a pool of money to fund an average 1 percent merit pay increase and an average 2.5 percent “market adjustment” to partially implement the results of a salary study the county plans to undertake next year.
“My emphasis in looking at our budget was to try to get the county's own house in order for employees,” Commissioner Nancy Thellman, a Democrat, said. “We haven't done a true evaluation of positions and pay schedules since the 1980s.
Commission Chairman Mike Gaughan, also a Democrat, agreed. He argued that for several years the county has lost many employees, which often results in additional expenses for the county to recruit and train their replacements.
The draft budget also includes several areas of new spending, most of which resulted from budget cuts enacted by the Kansas Legislature this year.
Among those is a $109,513 increase in funding for the local community corrections program, which is responsible for supervising people released from the county jail on probation. Without that money, county officials said, the local program would have lost two part-time and 1.5 full-time equivalent surveillance officers.
Kansas lawmakers this year cut about $5.7 million from the state Department of Corrections budget, much of which came from a program to help fund local community corrections programs.
In addition, commissioners agreed to add $20,470 to the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department budget, most of which will pay the cost of lab tests for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, because the Kansas Department of Health and Environment discontinued providing those lab tests for Douglas County.
Commissioners also set aside $130,000 as a contingency so that certain grant-funded positions in the district attorney's office and other agencies would continue in the event the state does not renew those grants.
County Commissioner Jim Flory, a Republican, said he reluctantly opposed some of that new spending.
“Obviously as a local official you're in a difficult position because you see it as an essential service that should be funded by another source, and it's not,” Flory said. “So the question is, do you fund it or do you not fund it? I think we reached as good a compromise and completion of that as we could.”
Finally, commissioners added $562,000 to restore cuts the county itself had made in recent years to its annual capital improvements program, or CIP, which pays for major road and bridge repairs, building renovations and equipment purchases.
Traditionally, the county has used the equivalent of 4 mills of general property tax money to fund the annual CIP, but commissioners reduced that amount in recent years in the wake of declining revenues due to the recession.
The draft budget approved today sets the upper limit on what the county will be allowed to levy in taxes for next year. Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the draft budget July 31. After that hearing, commissioners can adjust it downward or vote to approve it as is.