How the county handles elections, protects residents from flooding and boosts the zoo would change under budget proposals made this month.
Departments presented their budget requests to Sedgwick County commissioners. It’s the first time Commissioners David Dennis and Michael O’Donnell have been part of the process.
County Manager Michael Scholes said meeting departmental space needs and public safety requests were central priorities. He plans to present a recommended budget July 12.
The county will hold public hearings July 19 and 31. And commissioners will adopt a budget on Aug. 2.
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Here are some takeaways from the six budget hearings:
Steady mill levy for taxes
Commissioners want to keep the county’s mill levy, which determines how much property tax revenue is collected, relatively flat for 2018.
The county’s financial outlook is based on a levy of 29.359 mills.
“We’re using the same mill levy as a target every year,” Commissioner Richard Ranzau said.
Higher election costs
Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said she would have to spend more on election workers during next year’s race for governor. “We are expecting, especially without an incumbent candidate on the ballot, that we will have higher turnout,” she said.
Her office also requested $395,603 to maintain voter databases, add polling locations and maintain the county’s voting machines and its software.
“That’s new voting equipment,” Dennis said. “We definitely need to make sure it stays current.”
More tools against flooding?
Historic flooding in Derby, Mulvane and some unincorporated areas last year have changed county discussions about stormwater management.
The public works department is asking for $611,605 to add people and equipment to a crew that clears debris to keep streams from backing up. Another $300,000 would restart some watershed studies and pay for fees at a stormwater pump station at 45th and Ridge.
“I’m encouraged that these studies are in fact driving work,” said Commissioner Jim Howell, whose district was hard hit by the flooding. “We’ve not paid as much attention to this type of infrastructure as we should. We’ve got to get that priority back to where it belongs.”
Flat social services
The county’s health, mental health, developmental disabilities and aging departments asked for roughly the same money they got this year, minus some grant funding no longer available.
“We were asked to submit flat budgets. We did that,” said Assistant County Manager for Public Services Tim Kaufman. “That’s going to be the theme.”
Chairman Dave Unruh said the budget’s primary goal should be to provide services for citizens, including health. “I do not see this commission as one to cut those services.”
New zoo pact
The zoo’s budget request includes $5.9 million for personnel, as did this year’s budget. But the county would also pay for half of the zoo’s infrastructure and building improvements in 2018.
That was part of a zoo’s agreement approved unanimously last month, Kaufman said. The additional $398,993 would mean a 7 percent increase in the zoo’s funding over this year.
“We’re definitely going to honor the zoo’s funding agreement,” O’Donnell said. “The county commission does not want to do anything that would jeopardize that brand-new funding agreement that was so hotly contested.”