By a 3-2 vote, Leavenworth County Commissioners approved the county government’s 2020 budget.

By a 3-2 vote, Leavenworth County Commissioners approved the county government’s 2020 budget.

Two commissioners, Doug Smith and Mike Stieben, favored a reduction of the county’s mill levy by 0.25 mills.

But the budget was approved with a mill levy of 37.112 mills, which is unchanged from the current year. The mill levy is used in determining property taxes.

Commissioners were required to conduct a public hearing before approving the budget. During the public hearing, former Leavenworth County Clerk Larry Scheller argued for a reduction of the mill levy.

He said keeping a mill levy flat does not mean property taxes will remain flat.

Scheller said assessed valuation in the county has increased by about $50 million, and the county will be collecting about $1.8 million in additional taxes in 2020 even if the mill levy stays the same.

He suggested cutting the $1.8 million tax increase in half.

“My taxes are still going to go up,” he said.

Leavenworth resident Pat Proctor, who initially addressed commissioners during a general public comment portion of the meeting, asked commissioners to consider lowering the mill levy. He argued the increase in valuation results in a de facto property tax increase.

Other Leavenworth County residents also expressed concern about property taxes during the public hearing.

State Rep. David French, who represents the 40th District of the Kansas House of Representatives, said the money the county will be receiving through property taxes is not the commissioners’ money.

“It’s the taxpayers’ money,” said French, a Lansing Republican.

Stieben made a motion to reduce the mill levy for the 2020 budget by 0.25 mills. He said the county would absorb the reduction by cutting about $181,000 from a reserve fund.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson acknowledged that people do not like paying taxes. But he argued the county government has been faced with increased costs for things such as goods and services as well as paying comparable wages.

“We cut as much as much as we could,” he said.

He said the commission is doing things to reduce spending in the future.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz argued that keeping the mill levy unchanged does not reflect excessive spending or disrespect for the taxpayer. She suggested county residents speak with their representatives in state government regarding how decisions made at the state level have negatively impacted the county government.

Commissioner Chad Schimke suggested people should look at neighboring counties as well as counties similar in size to Leavenworth County. He argued people will see that Leavenworth County has been more competitive and frugal than other counties.

Stieben’s motion failed to pass with a 2-3 vote. Stieben and Smith voted for it.

Schimke then made a motion to approve the budget, leaving the mill levy unchanged.

This motion passed 3-2 with Stieben and Smith voting against it.

Commissioners then took up a separate budget for special funds. This budget includes taxes charged to people who live in unincorporated areas of the county for roads and bridges as well as assessments for sewer districts.

The mill levy for the local service road and bridge fund will be 8.393 for 2020. This will be unchanged from 2019.

Even though the mill levy will be unchanged, the amount of taxes collected for this fund will increase as a result of an increase in assessed valuation.

Commissioners first approved a resolution acknowledging the property taxes that will be levied for the special funds in 2020 will exceed the amount levied in 2019. Then they approved the budget for the special funds. Both motions were approved unanimously.

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