Danedri Thompson
[email protected]
Members of the Johnson County Board of Commission approved a budget proposal that would raise property taxes next year.
The proposed $928 million budget would increase the mill levy rate by approximately 1.622 mills. The budget proposal sets the maximum amount county officials can spend in 2016. The appraiser’s office will use that number to set the official mill levy rate. The proposed budget increases county spending by approximately $15 million.
County commission chair Ed Eilert said about half of the increase is necessary due to state legislation, adopted last year, that eliminated a mortgage tax registration fee.
“It has turned out to be a big number,” Eilert said during a June 25 commission meeting.
Commissioner John Toplikar, who represents Gardner and Edgerton, voted against the proposed budget, in part, he said because the process allows little time for commissioners to amend or suggest changes to the budget.
By state statute, the commission must adopt a 2016 budget no later than Aug. 25. On June 25, the commissioners in a 5-2 vote agreed to publish the proposed budget and set a public hearing date for the budget. The public hearing will be at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 27 in the county administration building, 111 S. Cherry Street, Olathe.
“If you take the time that we actually deliberate, and actually at this table here without staff, (the commission has) probably spend maybe three hours on the budget,” Toplikar said.
Commissioner Steve Klika, who represents Spring Hill, disagreed. He said in addition to committee of the whole meetings with all commissioners, different departments and boards also spent countless hours drafting their budget proposals.
County officials estimate that the tax increase will cost the owner of an average Johnson County home an additional $8.26 per month. That number will be slightly lower for the owner of an average home in Gardner and Edgerton, where the average home value is lower than the county average.
Commissioner Michael Ashcraft, who represents Olathe, recommended that the county consider eliminating a proposal to offer county employees an average of 3 percent wage increases.
Staff salary increases add to every year’s budget. Ashcraft proposed creating a system that would reward employees one time for finding cost savings.
“That’s an opportunity where employees who identify savings receive a one-time boost in their pay to give them motivation,” Ashcraft said. “…I would think we would want to seek opportunities to spur the creative juices of staff to work harder, work smarter and work quicker.”
Commissioner Jim Allen disagreed, however. He said during the recession, the county cut approximately 400 employees. He said the county needs competitive wages.
“We’re in an environment where we need to keep and hold as many of these employees as we can,” he said.
Some of the additional spending would be directed to the following programs:
• $6,314,245 (a .75 mill levy increase) for partial implementation of the Johnson County Park & Recreation District (JCPRD)15-year strategic master plan that would open for public use five previously acquired parks at various phases, develop approximately 30 miles of new Streamway Trails, and make improvements to existing parks.
• $5,241,339 (a .75 mill levy increase) for partial implementation of the Johnson County Library (JCL) 20-year comprehensive master plan that includes building a new branch in Western Shawnee, future plans for a branch in south Blue Valley, relocating the Lackman branch in Lenexa, modernizing other branches, and creating a new Operations Center to increase circulation efficiency.
• $1,495,000 (a .178 mill levy increase) for expansion of para-transit options including a new taxi voucher system, and job connector routes to some Johnson County employment centers. An additional $100,000 will come from ATA grant funding.
Details about the 2016 proposed budget, the current FY 2015 budget, and the budget process are available at the county’s main website at www.jocogov.org.