County Commission looks to reduce road and bridge capital funding cuts as budget talks resume

Douglas County commissioners discuss figures with Sarah Plinsky, assistant county administrator, during a break at Monday's 2019 budget hearings. The seated commissioners are, from left, Michelle Derusseau, Nancy Thellman and Mike Gaughan.

Douglas County commissioners reached consensus Monday on some 2019 budget issues but agreed to further discuss several big questions, including how much to cut the annual allocation to the public works road and bridge capital fund.

The proposed budget that Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug presented to commissioners last month recommended a $1.4 million reduction in the annual public works capital allocation, which is used to make road and bridge improvements. That reduction was among the cuts or reallocations to existing county spending that are meant to provide money to address overcrowding at the county jail.

Weinaug said before the 2019 budget hearings started last month that the solutions for overcrowding would be much different from those contained in Proposition 1, but it wasn’t yet clear what such solutions would look like.

Commissioners agreed Monday on a series of funding cuts, but also signaled opposition to cutting the road and bridge capital funding by the proposed $1.4 million. Commissioner Nancy Thellman was most generous toward the road and bridge capital fund, with a suggestion that the proposed cut be reduced by $740,000.

“I thought long and hard about the really sizable cut that was suggested,” she said. “I know we are in the process of reallocation, but I am concerned we not be like the Legislature of using Kansas Department of Transportation as a bank.”

Commissioners agreed that cutting the road and bridge capital funding was tied to other unresolved issues. Those issues included a possible $400,000 reduction in the special building fund, the county’s estimated $2.45 million 2019 ending balance and the 2019 mill levy.

The budget Weinaug presented maintained the county’s mill levy at the 2018 rate of 46.018 mills. However, the county could raise another $1.1 million in property taxes within the state’s tax lid statute, which limits cities and counties from raising property taxes beyond the rate of inflation absent voter approval.

Weinaug said Monday, however, that he anticipated the 2019 budget commissioners approved would maintain the 2018 mill levy or increase it slightly. At 46.018 mills, the county’s share of taxes on a $175,000 home would be $926.

Although cuts dominated the discussion, commissioners did agree to provide $1.9 million in funding for behavioral health programming in the 2019 budget. That equals the amount allocated for behavioral health in 2018.

A complication was the $400,000 of behavioral health spending approved in the 2018 budget for the proposed Lawrence Memorial Hospital crisis stabilization center, which wasn’t built because of state permitting issues. Commissioners agreed the $400,000 wasn’t meant as a one-time expenditure but as part of the annual behavioral health spending for new programming.

Bob Tryanski, county director of behavioral health projects, said the $400,000 allocation in 2019 could be used to help build and operate a behavioral health transitional group home. Such a group home was to be a part of the $11 million behavior health campus to be funded through Proposition 1. Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center secured a $500,000 affordable housing grant for the city of Lawrence to help build the group home, he said.


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