Douglas County nears the finish line on 2023 budget process; public hearing set for late August

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Douglas County Commissioners listen to public comment about the county's proposed budget during the commission's Wednesday, July 20, 2022 meeting.

Douglas County is just a step away from adopting its $163 million budget plan for 2023, and leaders will be making their final decision at a hearing next month.

At the commission’s weekly meeting on Wednesday, county commissioners took what might have been the second-to-last step in the budget process: they authorized staff to notify County Clerk Jamie Shew of their intent to exceed the established “revenue neutral rate.”

State law requires local governments to notify taxpayers and hold a special budget hearing if they plan to exceed the revenue neutral rate, which means that they would be taking in more money in property taxes than they did in the previous year. Although Douglas County leaders decided to lower their tax rate by about one mill in earlier budget deliberations, they would still be taking in more property tax revenue than last year because of a historic increase in property values in the county.

The county will be holding the public hearing on the budget on Aug. 24. Following that hearing, the commission will make its final decision on whether to adopt the budget.

The commission didn’t have much to discuss before its vote on Wednesday, but it did hear from two public commenters representing the Sunrise Movement. They were concerned about whether the budget would fund a proposed project that would extend Wakarusa Drive south of Lawrence through an undeveloped area and build a bridge over the Wakarusa River. The Sunrise Movement has previously expressed concerns about the environmental impact of that project.

Commissioner Shannon Reid said that although there’s a line item in the proposed budget dedicated to funding capital improvement projects as they arise, none of that funding has been set aside for specific projects yet. She said that would be decided after further discussion later this fall.

Reid also said she didn’t like referring to the project as a “road to nowhere,” a term one commenter used to describe it.

“I want to caution around the language ‘road to nowhere,’ because people live there,” Reid said. “There are a lot of reasons that residents who live in that part of that southern area of Douglas County south of the Wakarusa River, there are a lot of valid reasons for wanting this extension, and those are issues that we have to take into consideration in addition to the environmental impacts and other concerns that are raised.”

The 2023 budget proposal, which includes approximately $163.7 million of funding and a property tax rate of 46.380 mills, was fine-tuned at several County Commission work sessions in early July. Among them were three days of hearings during which commissioners considered additional funding requests from county departments and community partners that were not reflected in the initial draft of the budget.

Those hearings gave commissioners the opportunity to hear more about requests from fire and medical officials, the Douglas County District Court, and affordable housing and criminal justice reform agencies.

Nearly 50 of these “supplemental” funding requests were submitted to the county, and they were seeking more than $3.8 million. By the end of the hearings, however, commissioners had pared down that list substantially. They tentatively agreed to grant about $790,000 in supplemental funding requests for county departments and services, as well as about $400,000 in supplemental funding for community partner agencies.

Some of the supplemental funding for county agencies will help fund new hires, like a self-help center director for the District Court and additional officers for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Other line items would sustain funding for affordable housing programs like the Housing Stabilization Collaborative.

As for the community partners, the funding requests that made the cut include $50,000 to support a landlord incentive program through the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority and $100,000 to support truancy prevention programming for elementary and middle school students through the Center for Supportive Communities.


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