Commissioners move forward with mill reduction

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Leavenworth County officials are moving forward with a planned decrease to the county's mill levy in 2022. But the county would still collect more money in property taxes next year because of an increase in property valuation.

The mill levy is used in determining property taxes.

Commissioners reached a consensus Wednesday to reduce the county's overall mill levy by 0.25 of a mill for 2022.

However, they also voted to approve an indication that they intend to exceed what is considered the county's revenue neutral rate in 2022. This is an acknowledgement that the county's property tax revenue will increase in dollars next year even if the mill levy is reduced by 0.25 mills.

A new state law requires commissioners to conduct a public hearing on their intent to exceed the revenue neutral rate. Commissioners also are still required to have their traditional public hearing on the budget.

Both hearings are planned for Aug. 25. Commissioners will be able to approve the 2022 budget following the hearings.

The indication of exceeding the revenue neutral rate was approved 4-1 with Commissioner Mike Stieben voting against it.

At the time of the vote, commissioners had not yet reached a consensus to reduce the overall mill levy by 0.25 of a mill. And Stieben said he intended to vote "no" on all budget matters because he wanted to reduce the mill levy.

Commissioners have discussed the proposed 2022 county budget during a series of work sessions in recent weeks.

At one point, there appeared to be a consensus to leave the mill levy flat for next year. But Chairman Mike Smith said Wednesday that county officials had found a way to reduce the mill levy.

"We found a fix so everybody calm down," he said.

Health insurance provider

The fix Smith referred to resulted from the commission's decision to change the health insurance provider for county employees.

Commissioners voted Wednesday to switch from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas to Aetna.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said the change will save the county about the same amount of money that would be generated by 0.25 of a mill.

Loughry said the county has used Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas as its health insurance provider for about five years. In previous years, county officials were able to negotiate a reasonable cost increase with the insurance company. But Loughry said the company's response this year was "lacking."

Port Authority-LCDC funding

Commissioners also reached a consensus to reduce the amount of funding the county provides to the Leavenworth County Port Authority and Leavenworth County Development Corporation.

The county received requests for $90,629 in funding for LCDC in 2022 and $208,590 for the Port Authority.

The county government traditionally has used a property tax levy that is designated for economic development to fund the two organizations.

Commissioners plan to use the levy to provide $149,000 to the Port Authority next year. But commissioners plan to keep the additional $160,000 of anticipated revenue from the fund for internal county use.

Commissioners have discussed creating a new position within the county government for an economic development director.

While most commissioners were supportive of the proposed change in funding for economic development Wednesday, the decision was not unanimous. Commissioner Vicky Kaaz voiced opposition to the idea of creating a new county economic development director position.

She argued the creation of the position is "growing government" and adding more layers to economic development.

She argued commissioners need to figure out how to improve the public-private partnership that exists with the Port Authority and LCDC.

Kaaz also expressed concern the new county position may be more expensive than her fellow commissioners realize.

In addition to salary and benefits, the county may need to pay for memberships to various economic development organizations as well as training and participation in seminars, Kaaz said.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson expressed concern about providing significant funding to the Port Authority and LCDC while not having oversight over the organizations.

Kaaz argued the county provides funding to other organizations without oversight.

Two of the seven members of the Port Authority’s Board of Directors were appointed by the County Commission.

The County Commission also holds a voting position on LCDC's Board of Directors.

Kaaz suggested commissioners could look into having the commission chairman serve as a member of LCDC's Executive Committee.

Stieben reviewed a plan he said could help the Port Authority and LCDC make up at least a portion of the cut in funding to the organizations. The plan includes allowing LCDC offices to relocate rent free to the former Saint Luke's Cushing Hospital building, which is owned by the county.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Authorized funding for the purchase of new pagers for Leavenworth County EMS personnel and members of many of the fire departments in the county.

It is anticipated the purchase will cost about $150,000.

The request was made because the analog pagers being used by the first responders no longer work very well with the digital radio system maintained by the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office.

• Approved the purchase of an electronic door locking system at the Leavenworth County Health Department for $33,824. The system will be purchased using money from grant funding awarded to the Health Department.

• Approved the rezoning of 12 acres of land at 254th Street and Conley Road from a rural residential zone that requires lots to be a minimum of five acres to a rural residential zone with lots a minimum size of 2.5 acres.

Commissioners voted down the request June 30 but then rescinded that vote. Commissioners then tabled the matter June 30 for two weeks to see if the applicant was willing to file a deed restriction that will limit the property to being divided into no more than three lots.

The applicant agreed to the restriction ahead of Wednesday's commission meeting.

Commissioners voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve the rezoning. Commissioner Mike Stieben voted against the motion.

• Discussed possible restrictions on the length of time people can live in recreational vehicles in unincorporated areas of the county.

• Discussed possible regulations for solar and wind farms.