County approves budget

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Leavenworth County commissioners have approved a 2022 budget.

The vote on the $67.4 million budget came Wednesday. The budget was approved 4-1 with Commissioner Mike Stieben voting against it.

Commissioners conducted two public hearings related to the budget Wednesday before voting to approve it.

The first hearing concerned the commissioners' intent to exceed the revenue neutral rate.

This means the county government will collect more revenue from property taxes in 2022 than in 2021.

County Counselor David Van Parys said the hearing on the revenue neutral rate was required as a result of a new state law.

Local taxing entities use mills to determine property taxes.

The 2022 budget reduces the county mill levy by about about 1/4 of a mill compared to the 2021 mill levy. But the county will still collect more property tax revenue in 2022 because of increases in property valuations.

According to a county budget document, the county's 2022 budget will have a mill levy of 36.684 mills. The mill levy for the revenue neutral rate would be 34.21 mills.

Commissioner Doug Smith said he does not see how the county government could remain revenue neutral because of inflation.

"The cost of heating this building is going to go up," he said.

Wednesday's meeting took place at the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

Smith argued the county would have to lay off employees and cut services in order to remain revenue neutral.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson said Leavenworth County is the sixth largest county in Kansas in terms of population but has one of the lowest mill levies in the state.

"We're as tight as we can get," he said. "We are tighter than we should be."

The approved 2022 budget includes funding for a 4% raise for employees. Stieben recommended reducing the pay raise to only 3% in order to reduce the mill levy by an additional 1/4 mill.

County Clerk Janet Klasinski said such a reduction would still have exceeded the revenue neutral rate.

Stieben agreed the budget was tight. But he argued a 3% raise is reasonable.

"For any job anywhere, 3% is a nice raise," he said.

Culbertson said Leavenworth County is a training ground for employees. He said employees leave the Leavenworth County government for better paying jobs after they have been trained.

Stieben said he does not think this problem will be fixed by a 4% raise. Stieben said he has approved good salary increases for county employees during the last three years.

Two people from the audience addressed commissioners during the public hearings.

Joe Matzeder Jr. said he lives on a fixed income. He said it is hard for him to keep going when the county's appraised value of his property increases significantly each year, which results in higher taxes.

He said it seems as though people are being penalized for keeping up their properties.

Eric McMillin argued budget documents produced by the county do not provide enough information for a person to determine if the county is making a good decision by exceeding the revenue neutral rate.

He argued budget information should be more accessible and easier to understand.

Following the public hearing on the revenue neutral rate, commissioners approved a resolution to exceed the rate. The vote was 4-1. Stieben said he voted against the resolution because it appeared the other commissioners would not support his proposal for cutting the budget.

Commissioners then conducted a public hearing on the 2022 budget.

After a motion was made to approve the budget, Stieben attempted to offer an amendment to reduce raises for employees in order to lower the mill levy. None of the other commissioners supported this idea.

Commissioners also held public hearings on a separate budget for special funds. This budget includes a mill levy for local service roads and bridges that is charged only to people who own property in unincorporated areas of the county.

The mill levy for the fund, 8.431 mills, also will will exceed the revenue neutral rate, 7.789 mills.

Commissioners approved a resolution to exceed the revenue neutral rate for this budget with a vote of 4-1. Stieben voted against the resolution.

This budget also was approved 4-1 with Stieben voting against it.

During Wednesday's meeting, Smith argued the state government should be providing money to local governments for property tax relief.

County commissioners have frequently expressed frustration that the state withholds tax money they say was intended for local property tax reduction.

A Kansas law established a process for the state government to transfer a percentage of sales tax revenue into a fund for local property tax reduction.

Another state law established a process for the state government to place money in a county and city revenue sharing fund.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Approved the rezoning of property at 24257 Millwood Road from a rural residential district with a minimum size requirement of five acres for lots to a rural residential district with minimum size requirement of 2.5 acres for lots. The vote was unanimous.

• Approved the rezoning of property at 24450 171st St. from a rural residential district with a minimum size requirement of five acres for lots to a rural residential district with minimum size requirement of 2.5 acres for lots. The vote was 4-1 with Commissioner Vicky Kaaz voting against the motion.

• Authorized the Leavenworth County Health Department to purchase information technology equipment for an amount not to exceed $70,000. Health Department Director Jamie Miller said the department received grant funding to purchase the equipment.

• Received quarterly reports from representatives of Information Systems, EMS and the Health Department, and Community Corrections.