Proposal would cut key fund for county road and bridge work by nearly half to pay for jail, criminal justice projects

photo by: Journal-World Graphic

The Douglas County Commission meets in the historic courtroom on the second floor of the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

A $1.4 million cut to the annual allocation used to improve county roads and bridges would require Douglas County Public Works to scrap some projects and reduce the scope or delay others, officials told county commissioners Monday during the first day of 2019 budget hearings.

The $1.4 million cut was among the $3.12 million proposed in the 2019 budget County Administrator Craig Weinaug presented to Douglas County Commissioners last week. The money saved from the cuts is to be reallocated to pay for solutions to jail overcrowding in light of voters’ rejection last month of Proposition 1 and the $44 million jail expansion it would have funded. The proposed budget maintains the current year’s mill levy of 46.018 mills.

Keith Browning, public works director, and Chad Voigt, deputy public works director, shared the consequences of the cut to the department’s annual capital improvement fund proposed in the 2019 budget County Administrator Craig Weinaug presented to county commissioners last week. The public works department cut, which would continue in coming years, would reduce the annual allocation to the road and bridge capital account by about half.

With the cuts, no road improvement projects planned for the coming years would include paved shoulders, such as the ones that are now being installed on County Road 458 south of Clinton Dam, Browning said.

A CR 1055 project slated for 2020 to realign the curve west of Vinland and replace two bridges would be reduced to just the bridge replacements, Browning said. Moreover, the plan to extend Wakarusa Drive south of Kansas Highway 10 with the construction of a new bridge over the Wakarusa River would be delayed from 2021 to 2023. That project’s timing also is dependent on when the city of Lawrence schedules its participation and the state building a new Wakarusa Drive/Kansas Highway 10 interchange.

Public works also would adjust its bridge replacement schedule from seven every five years to 13 every 10 years with the cuts, Voigt said.

In response to questions from commissioners, Browning said the county has been very aggressive in making road improvements and replacing bridges. It was able to plan effectively and make the improvements because of dedicated annual capital allocations, which he said was rare among Kansas counties.

With that, Commissioner Mike Gaughan wondered if the county could follow the example of other counties and the city of Lawrence and bond all or some of its road and bridge improvements. That would enjoy an advantage under the state’s tax lid law, which limits local governments from annual property tax increases beyond the rate of inflation, because it exempts bonded debt from its consideration.

The public works cut and a corresponding $750,000 reduction to the county’s facilities capital account were the two largest of the $3.12 million spending cuts recommended in the proposed budget. In addition to the recommended cuts, the presented budget listed 21 budget cuts or fee increases totaling $1.25 million for commissioners’ consideration. Weinaug told commissioners they could substitute some of those options for proposed cuts, including the public works capital fund reduction, or add them to the budget to raise more money for solutions to jail overcrowding.

Commissioners also heard Monday from representatives of some of departments, organizations or agencies that were listed among the optional cuts. Those include:

• A $75,000 cut to the Bioscience and Technology Business Center.

• A $125,000 reduction in economic development incentives.

• A $115,000 reduction in the Heritage Conservation grants the commission awards annually.

• Ending the rural recycling program for a savings of $43,000.

• A $38,000 funding cut to Freedom Frontier and seven county historical agencies.

The budget hearings will resume at 8 a.m. Tuesday with discussion of the outside agencies that could receive a funding cut, if the county commission wants to raise more than $3.12 million for criminal justice needs. Those cuts aren’t included in Weinaug’s recommended budget, but he has outlined them for commissioners to consider. They are:

• 8 to 8:30 a.m., Cottonwood Inc., $50,000

• 8:15 to 8:35 a.m., Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging, $10,000

• 8:35 to 8:50 a.m., Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. $23,200

• 8:50 to 9:05 a.m., Douglas County Fairboard, $2,000

• 9:05 to 9:25 a.m., Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association, $28,000

• 9:25 to 9:45 a.m., Humane Society, $15,000

• 9:45 to 10 a.m., Douglas County Senior Resource Center, $50,000


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