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County Considering Possible Tax Reduction

Karen Shade - June 6, 2016 3:43 pm

The new Saline County Commission.

The new Saline County Commission.

At a rare Monday meeting Saline County Commissioners got a lot of work done, including pondering a possible reduction in the mil levy tax.

In a Monday morning meeting, Saline County Commissioners budgeted $28,766 for each of five County Commissioners, effective when the new commission is sworn in, in January 2017.  They also set aside $260,000 for Capital Improvements for the EXPO Center, should the City and County come to agreement about extending the lease of the EXPO Center.  While work on the budget will continue until it is formally adopted, at an Open Forum that will likely be scheduled in August, Commissioners were optimistic that the final budget might include a reduction in the mil levy.

As part of a 2014 “Drive for Five” effort, voters approved increasing the size of the Saline County Commission from three to five.  However, the 2015 budget approved by the then three member Commission only contained salaries for three Commissioners.

During a 2014 League of Women Voters forum, candidate (and now Chairman) Monte Shadwick said that some voters had expressed concern that an increase in the size of the Commission would mean additional expenses.  Fast forward to early discussions after the 2015 Board was sworn in, the Commissioners agreed to leave both Gile’s and Price’s salaries as they would have been.  They also decided to divide Shadwick’s salary among Shadwick, Larson and Smith.

In the 2015 budget, Commissioners approved a $1,000 increase for each staff member.  As a result, Gile and Price already make close to the budgeted salary figure.  Shadwick, Smith and Larson make slightly more than $11,000 apiece.  If Commissioners adopt the budget using the figures discussed today, then Shadwick and four soon-to-be elected Commissioners would earn the same salary.  (Shadwick is the only Commissioner who is not up for re-election this year.)
EXPO Center Capital Improvements

With minimal discussion, the Commissioners budgeted an additional $100,000 for the EXPO Center along with $160,000 needed to construct a “warm-up barn”, where horse show goers could ride their horses, prior to showing them.  This will enable the County to honor recommendations made by an EXPO Center Committee last year.

Because this money would go into a Capital Improvement fund, the actual improvements would not be made until the City and County come to agreement regarding the future lease on the EXPO Center.  Recently, the City informed the County that they planned to look at this matter in 2018.  The lease expires in 2019.

Possible Reduction in the Mil Levy

County Administrator Rita Deister said the audited 2015 end-of-year general cash fund balance came in ahead of projections by about a million dollars.  She attributed this to increased interest paid by the bank and to stronger property tax collection efforts.  Because some of the changes produce just one-time savings, she urged Commissioners to be cautious in how they respond, but she felt “safe and can say there is a possibility of a mil” levy reduction, depending on the decisions the Commissioners make in the final stages of planning the budget.  Price commented that a “mil reduction” was appropriate “as taxes have gone up”.  He may have been referencing that appraised property values have increased.

Price commented that employee wages and benefits had not been considered.  The Commission will meet with representatives with the county employee bargaining units tomorrow; this discussion might involve changes in the health insurance plan.

Commissioners considered appropriations for the conservation district, farm fund, Fair Board, and Commission on Aging.  They considered putting $20,000 in a capital reserve fund to replace the roof on the Senior Center.

Central Kansas Mental Health staff have been meeting with jail inmates prior to release to help them secure housing, employment, etc.  So far, this program is credited with helping 20 individuals not return to jail.  The Commission wants to continue to fund this and other mental health efforts at the Department of Community Corrections.

The Commission set aside $800,000 for R&B shop improvements for two previous years.  Earlier, they authorized that $500,000 from this fund be used to purchase additional gravel.  Commissioners hope that planned R&B shop improvements can be completed for $500,000, leaving around a million dollars that could go toward road improvements—including the possibility of paving either part of West Water Well Road, or part of South Ohio, or purchasing even more gravel.

Meeting Observer caution:  There are still many parts and pieces to the budget to be considered.  By getting a sense of Commissioners preferences, Deister can then make other calculations needed for items like the 2 mil bridge fund.  The auditor will review Deister’s calculations.  The Board can then re-shape the budget, both prior to and following public comment.  The Board must vote to approve a final budget by early August.

Riley Construction Considered as General Contractor for R&B Shop Repairs

Riley Construction’s Bryan Newell presented a variety of documents for consideration regarding the possibility of Riley Construction taking on the role of general contractor for planned R&B shop improvements.  Most of the documents need to be reviewed by the County Counselor, and according to Deister the documents may or may not be posted today to the Commissioners’ meeting agenda website at www.saline.org.)  This matter may come for a vote at Tuesday’s meeting.

Discussions centered around coming into full compliance with a 2015 inspection by the City Fire Marshall, modifying a wash bay, and adding an ADA accessible bathroom.  Consideration was also given to bonding and other requirements.  Newell said he thought the “process could move quickly”.

Riley Construction repaired the roof and structure of the then Salina-Saline County Health Department, which is the same building that houses the present Health Department.  Earlier this year, the Commission sought bids for a general contractor to conduct repairs on the R&B shop and only received one bid.

Price said he hoped the Commission would look at the bid process later this term.

Career Ladder for Assistant County Attorneys

Ellen Mitchell, County Attorney, noted that in the past, her office prosecuted a violent crime case perhaps once every other year.  This year, her office is prosecuting seven cases involving homicide.  Because of the realities of her department, she is often involved in the prosecution.

With five assistant attorneys, she is requesting the ability to designate two at a higher job classification.  They would have responsibility for trying violent crime cases and serving as her administrative back-up, when she is in court.

By using money already budgeted for part-time help (that is seldom used), Mitchell could fund two attorneys at a higher grade.  She would need to come back before the Commission if she wished to increase this to three positions.

The County Commission will next meet tomorrow, Tuesday, June 7, beginning at 8:30 and continuing into the afternoon.

City of Salina