Douglas County Commission approves 2021 budgets for county, new fire district

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Douglas County Commission

The Douglas County Commission moments after approving the 2021 budgets for the county and the newly created Consolidated Fire District No. 1 during its meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020.

The Douglas County Commission approved two separate 2021 budget plans on Wednesday, both of which aim to keep tax rates flat, but additional spending changes could be coming to the county’s budget in the future.

After holding public hearings, the commissioners unanimously approved the 2021 Douglas County budget and the 2021 Consolidated Fire District No. 1 budget.

The county’s 2021 budget includes a flat mill levy of 46.430, which would provide the county with an overall estimated $125.5 million budget. Under the flat mill levy, an owner of a $200,000 home will pay about $1,068 in annual county property taxes, which is roughly the same as what was established in the 2020 budget. Some county residents may still see their taxes increase because of the increase in assessed value of their properties.

However, County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said the county might need to make changes to its budget later after the commissioners finish their work crafting a plan for the county’s first round of CARES funding, a process that is ongoing. She noted that some CARES funding that was proposed to go to the county was removed, and the county would likely need to cover it in its own budget later.

“We have flexibility within our operating budget to address those needs,” Plinsky said.

Any future budget changes won’t involve increasing the mill levy. After the budget is finalized, the mill levy can’t be raised.

Plinsky previously told the Journal-World the budget was crafted to address unexpected issues. The approved budget includes 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 that in the 2020 budget, the county had planned to have about $3 million of unallocated money in its general fund, but the fund has actually increased to $6.6 million this year.

Plinsky said the county maintained 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 drops in revenue because of the economic downturn.

The commissioners also approved a spending plan for the county’s newly created fire district, Consolidated Fire District No. 1.

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 mill levy of 5.5, providing about $1.1 million. That results 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 following through by decreasing their mill levies to account for the decrease in provided services, the Journal-World has reported.

In other business, the commissioners tabled consideration of a rezoning of a portion of land at 173 East 1250 Road from Ag-1, agriculture district, to Ag-2, a transitional agricultural district.


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