County Approves 2017 Budget

Saline County Commissioners approved the 2017 budget as published.  They raised questions about commercial properties being assessed as residential properties.

2017 Budget Approved

In a 4-1 decision, Saline County Commissioners voted to approve the 2017 budget as published.  It includes a 1 mill reduction in the mill levy and gives staff a $750/year salary increase.

Commissioner Luci Larson voted against the measure.  She advocated for keeping the mill levy the same, going into 2017.  In the morning’s study session, County Administrator Rita Deister explained that if there was to be no change in the mill levy, the budget would need to be republished and the Commission would have to wait ten days before approving a new budget.

Chairman Monte Shadwick expressed appreciation for the number of people who had shared their thoughts individually with commissioners.  He said that even with reducing the mill levy by one mill, the 2017 budget reflects an 8.2% increase over the 2016 budget.

Commissioner Dave Smith said the unreserved fund balance is increasing from $7.5 million to $11 million.  (As explained at last week’s study session, some projects have been budgeted but may not be fully completed in 2016—like improvements to the Expo Center).

In today’s study session, Smith said the three Commissioners who spoke last week about further reducing the mill levy by a total of 2 mills had not done so out of “spite”; Smith and Jim Gile lost their bids for nomination in the August primary and John Price did not secure the Republican nomination for Senate District #24.  While reducing the mill levy by up to 2 mills had been discussed early in the budget process, Deister sought Commissioner preferences prior to making special calculations and then submitting the draft budget to the auditor.  Those calculations were made using the 1 mill decrease to the mill levy.  Discussions to reduce the budget by 2 mills re-surfaced at August 8’s vote canvassing, after Commissioners had a chance to see the 2017 Budget Overview.

Courtney Train, Commission Candidate from District #4, said that the County had discontinued offering GED courses to inmates, because of the costs.  She spoke of expanding Drug Court, of increasing employees’ salaries, and addressing other challenges.  Gile said the present Commission had implemented Drug Court and is addressing jail recidivism by finding funding within existing budgets.  Shadwick said he wasn’t certain how an 8.2% increase in the budget would hurt the County’s ability to properly fund government activities, when the increase is four times the rate of inflation.

Commercial Properties Assessed as Residential

Price asked County Appraiser Sean Robertson why some commercial properties are being classified as residential properties.  Robertson said that if these properties are being used to store personal items, this would “be no different from a garage” and would be assessed as residential.  As a result, owners then pay a residential tax rate that is less than half of the commercial rate.

Discussion turned to how a hangar that stores a privately owned airplane or a building storing a collector’s vintage automobiles could be assessed as residential property.  Commissioners asked Robertson to provide additional information on how prevalent this practice is and on how it impacts tax rolls.

Robertson reported that 8,000 single family home in Saline County had valuations that stayed the same or decreased in 2016.  He said the number of building permits issued over the past four years has been essentially steady, as has been the number of home sales.

In Other Matters, Commissioners:

  • Voted to “remove from the table” proposed action involving home occupations. Commissioners then voted to send the matter back to the Planning Commission.  Planning and Zoning Director David Neal said he hopes to schedule a special meeting of the Planning Commission for September 6 to address the Saline County Commission’s concerns about defining nuisances and grandfathering in existing home businesses.  The matter then might go to a Zoning Board meeting, tentatively scheduled for October 3rd.
  • Approved spending $31,355 to purchase 18 Dell mobile data terminals for the Sheriff’s Office.
  • Gave Road and Bridge authorization to possibly purchase a roller at a State surplus sale.
  • Heard the Human Resource Director’s monthly report. The County is assuming responsibility for processing workers comp paperwork for nine Building Authority staff.
  • Voted 4-0 to accept a bid for $105,489 from Ponton Construction to make security changes to the Sheriff’s Office. Larson recused herself from hearing this matter.
  • Voted 5-0 to print a public notice if entities wish to secure oil and gas lease rights on county owned property. The decision to publish does not obligate the Commission to lease these rights.
  • Heard the Juvenile Detention Statistics update.
  • Heard an update from the Health Advisory Council and Home Health Professional Advisory Committee, held last week. Price said staff had acquired “a lot of information and more needs to be acquired”.  He said the matter of whether the Health Department’s home health care services are competing with other providers requires “lots of study”.  He suggested that this might be something for the 2017 Commission to decide.  Deister said she suggested that Health Department Director Jason Tiller develop a business plan for home health.

Building Authority

The Building Authority Board accepted a $3,500 bid from Ponton Construction to remove stucco from the underside of the pedestrian bridge on the north side of the City County building.  The work will allow engineers to better view the condition of the bridge.  There had been a lively debate about the need to take this step if the bridge was likely going to be found to be unrepairable.  Salina Public Works Director Jim Kowach said contractors often consider risk when bidding; by being able to see more of the structure, the Building Authority might see lower bids if demolition is needed.

Electric lines for outside lighting, a transformer and a gas line are associated with the structure.  The north wall of soil may also need to be braced up or removed.  Possibilities for installing ramps were discussed.  Ray Hruska advocated for repairing the bridge.  He said the Building Authority Board “shouldn’t destroy the mezzanine between the City-County Building and library”.

The Building Authority Board also reviewed documents submitted by Sheriff Glen Kochanowski regarding the impact of removing signs that currently prevent concealed carry within the entire building.  The Board debated bring this matter to a vote, gathering information on how other entities are addressing the issue, or waiting to see if the Legislature makes any changes to existing legislation in its upcoming session.  State law gives local public entities until July 1, 2017 to secure buildings or allow open/concealed carry (with permitted exceptions for the courts).