OSWEGO — Labette County commissioners on Monday approved the 2020 budget for publication.
The public hearing for the budget will be 10 a.m. Aug. 26. That’s when citizens can question commissioners on the budget before it’s finalized.
The tax rate for 2020 will drop slightly; overall spending will increase $258,872. This was accomplished through a nearly $3 million increase in assessed valuation in the county.
The mill levy to support the 2020 county budget will be 61.635 mills. This year’s levy is 61.639. The difference to a taxpayer will be nearly imperceptible, as long as his or her property value didn’t change.
A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 in assessed value. So the owner of a $50,000 home in the county will pay $354.40 next year to support the county’s operations, a decrease of about 2 pennies from what that same homeowner paid this year, as long as values were steady.
To figure your tax bill, multiply the mill levy for the entity by the assessed value of your home. Residential property is assessed at 11.5%, so you would multiply your appraised value by .115 to get your assessed value. Multiply that value by the mill levy and divide that total by 1,000 to find your tax. There are other ways to figure it as well.
The county’s total spending for 2020 will be $15,487,527. This year’s total spending is $15,228,655. Next year’s budget will be supported by $8.5 million in property tax revenue.
All these figures are estimates until the actual mill rates are set in November.
Commissioners increased the tax levy for the special bridge fund from 1 mill to 2 because they expect to replace one or more bridges in the next year or two. One bridge that needs replaced, a steel truss structure over Pumpkin Creek near Angola, could cost more than $1 million.
The jail budget increased about $50,000 because of the increased number of inmates held there in recent years. The jail is near its capacity of 84, and running that close to capacity creates additional costs for food and medical care.
Public Works increased spending by about $35,000 and district court’s budget saw a bump as well. Other increases were scattered among departments for employees scheduled for longevity pay increases, but other pieces of department budgets were decreased to accommodate this in some cases. Commissioners didn’t approve cost of living adjustments for employees in 2020.
And, as they have done in recent years, commissioners didn’t want to increase the mill levy.
Commission Chairman Doug Allen wanted to see spending drop countywide by 1%, a goal he says he plans to push again next year. The budget process, which involved a number of special meetings and visits with department heads, didn’t allow that this year because of unforeseen expenses.
One example of this is the sheriff’s department needed new Motorola radios because the 800 megahertz radios they are using will not have support from the company because of their age (about 10 years). This expense totals about $250,000 and will come out of the 2019 and 2020 budgets.
Commissioner Lonie Addis pointed out that although spending increased, the amount of the increase is deceiving. Each year the commission projects collecting more than sales taxes generate. This way, if the taxes collect more than normal, the commission would not have to amend the budget in order to spend the money collected. Taxes collected go for property tax relief and the ambulance service.
“In actuality it makes things look a little worse than it is,” Addis said.
He also noted that since Commissioner Fred Vail has been on the board seven years ago, the county’s only replaced one bridge. The county formerly replaced two or three a year before the Kansas Department of Transportation ended the five-year bridge program.
As years tick away, sufficiency ratings (a numerical value of the bridge’s condition) on bridges drop. If these ratings drop below 50%, bridges will need to be replaced. Labette County has more than 300 bridges, but many of them are low-water crossings and small bridges over tributaries and ditches. The county has 16 bridges rated at or below 50% sufficiency, 12 below 60% sufficiency and 33 below 70%, according to KDOT bridge data.
Increasing the special bridge levy will provide a funding source if bridge replacement programs can be found.
“We’re just trying to set up a funding source,” Addis said.
Commissioners decreased the health department budget, choosing instead to spend down cash for the next year or two. Reducing the tax levy supporting this fund has consequences from the state, which helps fund the department’s programs. Commissioners figured the department would lose $6,800 from state funding by reducing the tax supporting health by a mill.
That reduction allowed commissioners to add the mill to special bridge.
“We went into that with our eyes wide open,” Addis said.
The Legislature passed a law that restricts counties and cities from increasing budgets beyond the consumer price index. Certain funds are not governed by this law, but commissioners choose to keep the tax rate supporting the budget level from year to year. Addis said commissioners could have raised the levy to 64.844 mills in 2020 without having to go through a public vote that’s required of the tax lid law.
Allen said none of the commissioners wanted that increase.
“Well, we hope we’re doing the right thing by not increasing the mill levy,” Vail said. “We all feel that taxes in Labette County are too high the way they are.
“Is that going to hurt us in the long run? I worry about that sometimes. This commission and I hope future commissions will find ways to not raise that mill levy and still provide the services that citizens need and want.”
Wind farm moratorium
Parsons resident and retired Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Dave Oas asked commissioners Monday to impose a moratorium on wind farm development in Labette County.
The year-long moratorium would allow commissioners and citizens to study the issue and perhaps consider limited zoning regulations to protect citizens and their well being as it relates to wind farms and setbacks from homes and property lines.
While commissioners know of no wind farm developments going on in the county, Oas noted that wind developers worked behind the scenes for a year or more in Allen and Neosho counties gathering property owners’ signatures on lease agreements that would allow wind turbines to be placed on their properties.
Oas thinks that wind farm companies are working in the county as the clock ticks toward the end of federal tax credits used to fund the developments. Companies must have lease agreements on file and construction started by the end of 2020 to qualify for the credits, unless the federal government extends the credits for another two years, Oas said.
Oas said the lease agreements were filed in bulk in Neosho County.
He said he just wants people to be aware and to do their own research into wind energy.
Commissioners promised if wind development comes to Labette County that they would be open and transparent through the process.
Commissioner Vail said he likes to see data before making a decision. He said Labette County learned something when the gas wells were drilled in the county. That didn’t pan out the way landowners thought it would. Some homeowners even lost old gas wells they pulled from for their homes because of the vacuum caused by the commercial wells.
“We didn’t have any idea that was going to happen. There’s always more to the story,” Vail said.
Vail, who farms, said he could see how these wind farm lease agreements would be attractive to farmers in a struggling ag economy.
Commissioners didn’t take action on Oas’s suggestion, but County Counselor Brian Johnson said he needed to study the matter to see if the county could impose a moratorium on one industry.
In another matter, commissioners approved a start up contract that will allow the Labette County Health Department to run the Women, Infants and Children program in the county. Formerly, Cherokee County operated WIC for Cherokee and Labette counties. Now the Labette County Health Department will manage WIC for Labette.
Lisa Hoppock, health department administrator, said the department staff is in the process of training and transitioning the program to Labette County.
Hoppock said the goal is to start WIC services in Labette County Oct. 1.