It took several motions, but the Leavenworth County Commission approved a 2018 budget.

It took several motions, but the Leavenworth County Commission approved a 2018 budget.

The $53.2 million budget was approved Thursday following a public hearing, but the vote was not unanimous.

The 2018 budget will decrease the county’s mill levy by 0.25 mills from the current mill levy rate. The mill levy is used in determining property taxes. The mill levy for the 2018 budget will be 37.358 mills.

Even though they have approved the budget, commissioners still have to make decisions regarding the amount of funding the county government will provide next year to the Leavenworth County Port Authority. Commissioners also will have to make a decision about whether to provide funding to the Leavenworth County Historical Society.

County Administrator Mark Loughry and County Clerk Janet Klasinski recommended keeping the mill the same as the current year.

A notice of Thursday’s public hearing that was published in the newspaper showed a flat mill levy.

Klasinski told commissioners Thursday that they could decrease the mill levy, but they could not increase it to more than what was published in the newspaper.

Commissioner Clyde Graeber questioned whether the county would be able to return to the current level if the mill levy is lowered in 2018.

Klasinski said the 2018 mill levy will become the base rate for the future.

State law places restrictions on cities and counties when it comes to collecting increased property tax revenue that exceeds the rate of inflation. The law includes exemptions and local governments also can increase tax revenue with voter approval.

Commission Chairman Doug Smith argued Thursday for decreasing the mill levy for next year.

He noted the county’s mill levy was increased by 0.5 mills for the current year’s budget to pay for a roof replacement at the Justice Center. Smith was not on the commission at the time the increase was approved. But he said there seemed to had been a consensus at the time to roll back the increase the following year.

Smith also said many homeowners are facing higher property tax bills because the appraised values of their properties have increased.

“People are getting a tax increase just by their appraisals,” he said.

He said commissioners should consider reducing the mill levy by at least 0.25 mills.

Commissioner Bob Holland said county officials are trying to create a reserve fund so the mill levy will not have to be raised in the future to pay for projects.

Smith argued the County Commission is asking people to take money out of their reserves to give to the county.

During the public hearing, Blaine Weeks addressed the commission regarding a proposed cut to funding to the Leavenworth County Port Authority. Weeks is the chairman of the Port Authority’s Board of Directors.

The county government traditionally provides funding to several nonprofit organizations each year including the Port Authority.

The Port Authority requested $204,500 for 2018, which is the same amount the organization received from the county this year.

Port Authority officials planned to give a portion of the requested funding, $82,833, to its partner organization, the Leavenworth County Development organization. County officials proposed paying that amount directly to LCDC. And county officials proposed paying $33,850 to the Port Authority, according to Klasinski.

The remaining $87,817 in funding that was requested by the Port Authority would be kept by the county to be used for economic development projects.

Weeks said the Port Authority and LCDC are responsible for economic development in the county. He said Port Authority officials want to build up the organization’s reserves to have money to use as incentives for economic development projects.

Bill New, who also serves on the Port Authority board, later told commissioners that the Port Authority is “an arm of you folks.”

Smith said he sees the Port Authority and LCDC as the county’s economic development department.

“We don’t have our own economic development department,” he said.

Loughry said the county’s funding proposal for the Port Authority would cover all of the organization’s operating expenses. He said the proposal would not provide money to be put back into the Port Authority’s reserves.

Holland noted that the Leavenworth County Historical Society requested $50,000 in funding.

In June, LCHS President Mary Ann Brown said the Historical Society is looking to hire a full-time museum director.

Instead of allocating $50,000 specifically for the LCHS, county officials have proposed to budget the same amount of money to fund requests from museums and historical societies in the county, according to Klasinski.

Smith said there are multiple historical societies in the county. Smith said he is sure all of them would request funding if they knew there is pot of money that is available.

Holland said the LCHS went through the trouble of asking for the money when other historical societies did not.

Holland also said funding is being cut for the Alliance Against Family Violence.

Klasinski said after the meeting that county officials propose increasing the county’s funding for the Alliance by $5,000 next year for a total $55,000. But she said this is less than the $92,000 that was requested by the organization.

During Thursday’s meeting, Holland requested that commissioners go behind closed doors in executive session to discuss personnel. He said the issue was related to the budget.

Commissioners met in executive session for 10 minutes.

When commissioners returned to open session, Loughry said they did not have to decide Thursday on the levels of funding for the Port Authority or LCHS.

“The funding is in the budget,” he said.

After approving the budget, commissioners have up to Jan. 1 to determine how much money they want to allocate to these organizations, he said.

Graeber made a motion to approve the budget with a flat mill levy as presented by the county clerk.

The motion died for a lack of a second.

After further discussion, Graeber again made a motion to approve the budget as it had been presented. Again, there was no second offered for the motion.

Smith then made a motion to approve the budget with a mill levy decrease of 0.25 mills.

“It looks like my motion dies for a lack of a second,” he said after a pause.

Graeber again made a motion to approve the budget with no change to the mill levy.

This time, Smith provided a second to the motion.

But Smith voted against the motion.

The motion failed with a 1-2 vote. Only Graeber voted for it.

“We do need to approve some form of a budget,” Loughry said.

Klasinski said 0.25 mills would generate about $150,000 in taxes.

Graeber said he was willing to second Smith’s earlier motion.

Smith again made the motion to approve the budget with a mill levy decrease of 0.25 mills. Graeber seconded the motion.

This motion passed 2-1 with Holland voting against it.

After the meeting, Holland said there are matters that he cannot bring up that impact the budget. He cited these issues as the reason he voted against the budget.

Commissioners also approved a separate budget for a local service road and bridge fund. This budget has its own levy that is charged to people who own property in unincorporated areas of the county.

Commissioners approved a budget for this fund with a mill levy of 8.462 mills. This is the same mill levy that was assessed for this fund this year.

This budget was approved 2-1 with Holland voting against it.

Holland said he voted against this budget because he wants more direction regarding the spending of money from this fund.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR