OSWEGO — Labette County commissioners on Tuesday passed two resolutions related to the 2022 budget.

One resolution gave notice that the county would exceed a revenue-neutral rate for the 2022 budget, an action required by a new law passed by the Kansas Legislature and signed by Gov. Laura Kelly.

The neutral rate is the tax rate for the coming tax year that would generate the same amount of property tax revenue levied in the current tax year. If a governing body plans to raise property tax revenue above this neutral rate, it would need to have a public hearing on the proposed increase. Governing bodies already are required to have public hearings for budgets. With the new law, there is the potential for having two hearings on the budget.

With the resolution passed Tuesday, county commissioners agreed to publish the resolution in county newspapers announcing the county will exceed the revenue-neutral rate of 60.942 mills in 2022. This year’s mill rate is 61.536.

Because this is a new law, commissioners wanted to comply with its provisions. The commission hired accountant Rodney Burns to set the revenue-neutral rate for 2022, and Burns is helping with budget preparation. 

The new law requires notification to taxpayers if a taxing entity will exceed a revenue-neutral rate. In the first year, a legal publication is all that’s required to notify taxpayers. In years two and three, taxpayers will have to be notified by mail. The Legislature is to pay for these mailings for two years, but commissioners doubted that would happen given the state’s financial situation.

The new law also has a penalty for noncompliance. If a county exceeds the revenue-neutral rate without proper notice and a hearing, it would have to reimburse taxpayers for property taxes collected over that neutral rate.

To avoid that, commissioners agreed to notify taxpayers they planned on exceeding the neutral rate, even though they are working toward reducing the tax levy from this year’s rate.

“If you say you’re going to stay the same and you exceed it, the penalty is you have to pay the money back. If you say you’re going to exceed it and you don’t there is no penalty,” County Counselor Brian Johnson told commissioners.

County Clerk Gena Landis told commissioners the resolution was the only failsafe for government bodies.

Commissioners approved the resolution announcing that the county would exceed the neutral rate on a 3-0 vote. They also approved a similar resolution for townships and cemetery districts that were waiting until Wednesday to discuss the matter and work on budgets. Tuesday was the deadline for action.

Johnson told commissioners this would protect the townships and districts but that they could still approve a revenue-neutral rate.

Commissioners will have to schedule the hearing on the revenue-neutral rate and likely have the regular budget hearing right after that. The hearings cannot take place before Aug. 20 or after Sept. 20.

 

Fair donation

County commissioners on Tuesday also agreed to donate $50,000 this year to the Labette County Fair Board’s project to replace existing lights and wiring around the rodeo arena. The commission also agreed to match up to $25,000 in private donations received for the project, estimated to cost $100,000.

Fair board members Rick McKinzie and David Newby told commissioners previously about the light project. The existing lights are about 30 years old and the wiring needs replaced as well. The fair board wants to add LED lighting to the arena. Evergy was replacing burned out bulbs on Tuesday in advance of night shows this week for the fair.

During a tour of the fairgrounds Tuesday morning, Commissioner Cole Proehl told McKinzie and Newby about the donation.

“That’s great news,” McKinzie said. “This is just incredible.”

Commissioner Brian Kinzie said he hoped the improvement would allow the fairgrounds to host more shows than it does already.

 

Fiber line update

At Monday’s commission meeting, Wave Wireless owners Galen and Sandy Manners updated commissioners on the company’s progress on installing fiber optic cable in rural Labette County. Wave Wireless received $5.2 million from USDA’s Re-Connect pilot program. Manners will use the money to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises broadband network capable of transmission rates of 100 megabits per second or greater. The 250-mile service area includes rural Labette County and homes and businesses in or near the current Wave Wireless footprint. This will be 1,390 households, 16 businesses and 23 farms, and 3,500 residents will be impacted. Communities will include Dennis, Labette City and Mound Valley. There was not enough funding to get farther than about 3 miles south of Altamont, Manners said previously.

Galen Manners told commissioners that he’s working in the Mound Valley area now and wants to cross South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad right of way. He is working with the railroad to get permits for installing the fiber. He said he’s having difficulty verifying county right of way on 14700 Road.

The railroad needs a plat map and a resolution from the commission. Commissioners were supportive of the project.

Commissioner Lonie Addis said there are about 200 miles of roads in Labette County for which right of way could not be determined. This came up around 1985. He said the first right of way was set at 34 feet in the Chetopa area. Blacktop roads have 100 feet of right way. Most other roads have 50 feet of right of way. Right of way is measured from the center of the road out. On a 50-foot right of way, one would measure 25 feet to either side of the road from center to determine the right of way boundary.

Manners said he didn’t think there were utilities in the ditch in question and he wants to bury the fiber line close to the fence line. 

Commissioners suggested Manners work with the county mapping department to detail the areas in question and get legal descriptions so the commission can create the resolution.

 

In other matters on Monday, commissioners:

— Approved a disaster declaration for the county related to last week’s flash flooding. The declaration is in effect for seven days.

— Heard a request from Neosho County Rural Water District No. 4 representative Ron Giefer for the county to consider the district’s water line replacement project as a place to park some of the money the county received from the most recent federal stimulus plan. The district has 425 meters in Labette County, from Dennis to north of Parsons east to Wallace Road. The district is working on a $12 million plan to upgrade water lines. It is seeking grant funding for the work. Commissioners didn’t make any commitments but said they would consider the project once they learn what they can and cannot spend the American Rescue Plan money on and how they want to divide the money. Giefer said any money the county gave would be used on Labette County residents. The district will consider increasing water rates to help pay for the improvements.

— Heard a request from Bartlett Mayor Doug Ramey for the county to provide a quote for the cost of chipping and sealing the street leading to Bartlett Grade School.

— Reviewed a proposed contract with Granite to save the county money on its landlines in county offices. The contract has not been finalized.

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