Douglas County Commission to continue discussing CARES funding plan, consider finalizing 2021 budgets
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo
The Douglas County Commission could authorize three separate spending plans during its meeting on Wednesday.
The County Commission will continue discussions on how to spend $24.9 million of federal coronavirus relief funding and consider approval of the county’s 2021 budget, which contains a flat mill levy. It will also consider a 2021 budget for a newly created fire district that will cover a majority of the rural parts of the county beginning Jan. 1.
Last week, the commission got its first look at the planned spending for its allotment of first-round funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as CARES. As the Journal-World previously reported, covering health and medical expenses caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic accounts for $11.3 million of the plan, which includes a $2.7 million fund for LMH Health to ramp up virus testing and contact tracing.
The plan also outlines spending for $3.8 million for education, $2.5 million for housing and human services and $1.2 million for economic recovery, among other spending. A full breakdown of the spending is available on the county’s website.
The commissioners will continue discussions during a work session and then consider making revisions to the spending plan and possibly finalize it during their regular meeting. The county has until Aug. 15 to approve the plan and turn it into the state to receive the funding. The commissioners last week scheduled a special meeting for 8 a.m. Friday to continue discussions if they have not yet finalized the plan.
The commissioners will also consider finalizing the county’s budget for the 2021 calendar year. Prior to finalization, the commissioners will hold a public hearing.
In early July, County Administrator Sarah Plinsky proposed a 2021 budget with a flat mill levy of 46.430, which would provide the county with an overall estimated $125.5 million budget.
Under the proposed flat mill levy, an owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $1,068 in annual county property taxes, which is roughly the same as what was established in the 2020 budget. However, some county residents may still see their taxes increase because of the increase in assessed value of their properties.
Plinsky noted that the budget included an increase in unallocated funding, also known as fund balance, which could be used at the County Commission’s discretion to help deal with the fallout from the economic downturn associated with the pandemic. She said in the 2020 budget the county planned to have about $3 million of unallocated funds in its general fund budget, but the fund has increased to $6.6 million this year.
Plinsky said the county planned to maintain most of that $6.6 million fund balance for the 2021 budget, rather than following its normal practice of allocating some of it to specific budgeted funds like capital improvement projects, to give the county flexibility when dealing with expected drops in revenue because of the economic downturn.
“Flexibility and the ability to respond to current challenges is the theme of the budget,” Plinsky said in July.
The commissioners will also consider approving a spending plan for the county’s newly created fire district, Consolidated Fire District No. 1. The commissioners will hold a public hearing for the fire district’s budget as well.
The fire district was created earlier this year by consolidating several township fire departments and some county fire districts. The new fire district’s budget includes a 5.5 mill levy, providing about $1.1 million. That would result in about $125 in taxes on a $200,000 home.
Previously, Chief Mike Baxter of the Wakarusa Township Fire Department, who spearheaded the creation of the new district, said it would result in no change to residents’ taxes, calling the change “a straight wash.” But that may rely on township leaders to follow through by decreasing their mill levies to account for the decrease in provided services, the Journal-World has reported.
In other business, the commissioners will also consider approving a rezoning of a portion of land at 173 East 1250 Road from Ag-1, agriculture district, to Ag-2, a transitional agricultural district. The property owner said in the zoning application that he wanted to rezone about 12 acres of his 34-acre property into a homestead and then sell the remaining 22 acres for farming purposes.
The County Commission will meet Wednesday through an online video conference at 4 p.m. for a work session and 5:30 p.m. for the regular business meeting. The meetings will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, douglascountyks.org. Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 932-9972-8129.
Full audio from the meeting will continue to be posted on the county’s website, as usual. The meeting’s full agenda may also be found on the county’s website.
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