A divided Johnson County Board of Commissioners adopted a 2016 budget that includes 7 percent rate increase. The $928 million budget includes a 3.30 mill levy rate increase with more than $743 million in spending and $185 million in reserves.
The rate increase will cost the owner of a $261,000 Johnson County home approximately $8 per month, for a monthly county tax bill of $66.46. The owner of a $150,000 home will pay about $5 more per month, for a monthly tax bill of $38.20.
Of that, approximately $2.59 will go to the county’s general fund, $1.08 will go to the parks budget, and another $1.08 will go to the library each month.
Scott Neufeld, county government budget director, told the board state-level changes cost the county government millions in annual funding. For example, Neufeld said the state has not funded local tax revenues for cigarettes and alcohol since 2003, costing Johnson County approximately $12,1 million annually. State legislators are also phasing out local revenues related to large machinery and equipment purchases, draining $15 million in county resources, and the phasing out of the mortgage registration collection fee (MCRF) is costing the county $12 million to $16 million in revenue each year. The tax will be completely phased out in 2019.
“When you start with putting one or two hands behind your back, and then get hit with the MCRF, you’re kind of hopping on one leg,” Neufeld said of the budget process.
In addition to the 7 percent property tax increase, property valuations in Johnson County are also up by approximately 7 percent.
The additional funding includes approximately $1.5 million to expand the county’s public transportation program. The funds will be used to expand service from Wyandotte County and KU Medical Center to the Mission Transit Center, expand bus service on Metcalf Avenue, and add service for paratransit.
The new taxes will also partially fund Johnson County Library and county parks expansions. The library system master plan is to modernize 10 existing facilities, including the Edgerton and Gardner branches. Other facilities, such as the Spring Hill branch, will add capacity, and the plan calls for two new branches, one in west Shawnee, and another near Stillwell.
The parks master plan includes the development of existing park land, including Big Bull Creek Park near Edgerton, and investing in existing parks like Ernie Miller Park and Kill Creek Park.
“This is long overdue,” Neufeld told commissioners.
Commissioners approved the 2016 budget in a series of resolutions, with Chair Ed Eilert and commissioners Jim Allen, Steve Klika and Ron Shaeffer voting in support and commissioners Michael Ashcraft, Jason Osterhaus and John Toplikar opposing each measure.
Toplikar asked commissioners to lower its reserves by 17 percent in order to stave off the tax increase.
“I would put forth that we don’t need this much in reserves,” Toplikar said noting that Moody’s and others use reserves as only one factor in the county’s credit rating.
Ashcraft seconded Toplikar’s motion so discussion could continue, but he and the other five commissioners all voted against it.
Klika worried that the proposed 21 percent of budget expenses in reserves may be too low. He supported the tax increase saying county officials put a lot of things on the back burner over the last 10 years. The county’s mill levy rate has remained flat since 2006.
“We’ve got to get back on track,” he said. “…This (budget) gets us a jump start to keep moving forward.”
County residents and parks and library board members also took to the podium for more than an hour. Only two residents spoke against the proposed budget, though Olathe resident Dennis Batliner said a majority of county residents oppose a tax increase in a county-funded citizen survey.
“They don’t want a mill levy increase,” Batliner said. “That was their vote. That should be your vote.”