• Charlene Sims, Journal staff

County departments, County Clerk trim budget to revenue neutral

Updated: Sep 4

MOUND CITY – In a special meeting on Friday, July 15, and the regular meeting on Monday, July 18, the Linn County Commission along with County Clerk David Lamb were able to hammer out a budget that meets the revenue-neutral goal and approve a 5 percent cost-of-living raise for county employees.

However, the county will take as much as $171,000 out of the county’s reserve funds to do both of those things.

At a special meeting with county department heads and other county-funded organizations on Friday, commissioners voted 2 to 1 to take the budget down to revenue-neutral level.

Commissioner Danny McCullough cast the vote against the measure, saying he was concerned that the county would have to increase taxes significantly within the next couple years.

Commissioners also split the vote 2 to 1 to give the county employees a 5 percent cost of living raise. Commission Chair Jim Johnson voting no on the increase

While the motion made by Commissioner Rick James only said that the county was going to hold the budget at revenue neutral, presumably from previous discussion the way they intended to take the $393,000 over revenue neutral down to zero was by making other cuts.

These were by taking $50,000 more out of the budgets supervised by Public Works Director Shaun West which are noxious weed, elderly, road and bridge, custodial, planning and zoning and solid waste. West had already left the meeting when this decision was made by James. And the remainder would be taken out of the county’s windfall reserve fund which will take it down to $1 million.

McCullough had argued that reducing the budget that much did not allow the county to grow. He was also concerned about how this was going to affect the taxpayers in the future.

“If you keep cutting budgets, it makes the department heads jobs way harder,” said McCullough.

Because the budget went below revenue neutral last year, the requirement was for it to go lower than last year’s mill levy. Increased valuations were also figured into this requirement.

McCullough was concerned that in a few years the mill levy would have to be raised dramatically to keep up with rising costs. County Clerk David Lamb had also expressed that concern at the commission’s regular meeting on Monday.

Commission Chair Jim Johnson said that he was willing to take the chance because he thought the jail would be bringing in enough income in a couple of years to help with the county’s budget.

Johnson said that he did not favor the 5 percent cost-of-living increase, partly because the county was paying so much more for employee benefits that he felt the employees should get a smaller increase.

Lamb and County Treasurer Janet Kleweno both expressed concern to taking the county budget down to revenue neutral. Kleweno said going over revenue neutral did not mean the levy was going to rise. Lamb said that without meeting revenue neutral, the county was still looking at a decrease in the levy of 3 to 3.5 mills.

At Monday’s meeting, Lamb had explained that if any year was the year to go over revenue neutral, this was the year because of increasing costs and an increasing work force for the justice center which not only increased payroll but increased employee benefits.

Lamb said that what really annoyed him was that while the Kansas legislators set up this revenue neutral goal for other government entities, they did not set it up for the state to meet revenue neutral. Kleweno agreed.

In answer to a question by McCullough about what this would do to the county in two years, Lamb said that if the county met revenue neutral this year, he thought the more the county decreases now, the more you are going to decrease carryovers and the commissioners are going to be having this same discussion next year because the county won’t have as much to start with.

“We have already knocked our reserves down a lot from what we had before,” said Lamb.

McCullough asked what was the absolute worst that could happen if the county went over revenue neutral.

Lamb said that nothing bad was going to happen, but if the county met revenue neutral the county was not going to have as much money to work with.

Kleweno said that before revenue neutral became a suggested policy, the county’s levy would be 44.278 mills down from 47.848 mills last year without the cost of living. If the county did the cost of living before this happened, the levy would go down 3.57 mills.

Kleweno explained the if the county goes over revenue neutral, it just means that the county has to send everyone a letter about what the taxes will be for the county. This year the state has said that it will pay for that letter and expenses.

Lamb interjected that the state has said that they will also pay for it next year, but the state has not put this in their budget. The county is sending letters this year because other entities are going over their budgets.

“Going revenue neutral does not mean the levy is going to increase,” said Kleweno. She said that also doesn’t mean their taxes are going to increase.

Lamb said the change in what an individual pays depends on whether their property value has increased.

James said that thought it mattered whether the county gets to revenue neutral. He said his goal is to get there. Either we do it or we don’t do it together. It’s not a threat, it’s just what we should be doing.

Lamb asked James, “How long, you’re not going to be in office much longer, but you are going to be a resident of this county, how long do you really think we can continue to be revenue neutral?”

James said if the commission worked hard at it, the county can met it every year.

McCullough asked James if he thought the commission could grow the county that way, and would it make people want to come here.

Changes made by departments and organizations during the meeting were:

• Lamb informed the commissioners that the Register of Deeds Kristy Schmitz had lowered that budget by $4,900 because instead of buying shelving she had received some from the district court.

• Lamb told the commissioners that he had received the rate from the State of Kansas on Employment insurance so he could lower the employee benefits budget by $57,000.

• Fire department, cut $33,000.

• Fair board, no decrease.

• Sheriff’s department, Sheriff Kevin Friend said that there were so many novel expenses with the new Justice Center that it would be hard to make cuts. He did offer to cut $25,000 out of the out-of-county housing. This is the line item that covers prisoners who have to be housed somewhere else even though their crime was in Linn County.

• County Attorney Burton Harding sent a message that he could cut $2,500 from his budget.

• County Appraiser Kathy Bridges said her department could cut $20,000.

• Soil Conservation had no decrease.

• Pam Cannon from GIS/Mapping said she could cut $4,000 from her budget.

• Economic Development Director and Airport Manager Jessica Hightower said she did not see where she could take anything out of the airport budget. Lamb said that he was going to readjust the airport budget to show the income from fuel sales.

• Hightower said that economic development could take $5,000 out of contractual.

• Information Technology Director Chris Martin said that his department could go down $3,000 to $4,000.

• District Court Clerk Lori Simmons questioned how paper products, office supplies, cleaning costs, and utilities were going to be handled in the new building. Because there was some duplication of costs with the court’s budget and the sheriff’s $10,000 was taken out of the court budget for utilities and $5,000 for janitorial and cleaning.

• Southeast Kansas Mental Health Director Nathan Fawcett said that the mental health center could give up the increase of $2,741 that they asked for.

• Tri-Ko Director John Platt said that Tri-Ko would be willing to go back to the 2020 amount, which would decrease their budget by $2,400.

• The East Kansas Area Agency on Aging did not attend but did not raise their budget for 2023.

• Kleweno said that with the increases for supplies and postage required by her office and other expenses out of her control she could not decrease her budget. She said that the motor vehicle department pays about $7,500 back to the county’s General Fund every year.

• Planning and Zoning was not decreased by West any more, it had already been budgeted at $6,000 less.

• Elderly/Transportation Fund, West said that fuel costs increases will affect this department so it will not be able to be decreased any more.

• Noxious Weed Department was not able to decrease its budget.

• For Solid Waste, West had Al Doan explained new expenses for that department for actions required by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, fuel increases and increased fees.

• Road and Bridge was going to stay the same, said West. If we take money out, it will probably cut services. He pointed out that the cost of rock and fuel justify the increase.

• Linn County Park, mostly utilities and contractual, decaying infrastructure, expenses on park facilities, no decrease.

After the budget session on Friday, Lamb on Monday gave an update to the commissioners. He said the income adjustments he made were that he went through the delinquent taxes that have been paid this year and compared it to last year and what the county brought in throughout the rest of the year and he picked up quite a bit more in delinquent there than he had in the original estimate and there was a fair amount of income he picked up from that,

He said that he adjusted the income on fuel sales at the airport to match closer to fuel we were really going to buy so that helped us out on that part too. With those adjustments before cost of living, it actually got down below revenue neutral.

He said the next thing he is going to work on is work on the list of current employees and figure what the 5 percent will increase their wages and split that up by department.

If that list would come out to the amount that Lamb has estimated on the cost of living, that would put the county in the neighborhood of $170,000 or $171,000 over revenue neutral. That would be the amount that the county needs to reduce its reserve funds and get the county to the revenue neutral rate that the commission voted on.

That’s about how much the county went under revenue neutral last year, Lamb said. If the county had not gone under revenue neutral last year, it would have been right on it without dipping into the reserves any further.

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