Sedgwick County’s proposed budget would give the county more resources to protect public safety, more polling locations and more tools to prevent flooding.
The 2018 recommended budget would also change the way the county pays for bridge projects, does preventive road maintenance and attracts new employees.
Better-than-expected property values helped the county’s outlook for its recommended budget, which comes in at about $425.2 million in county government and fire district spending. That’s about $236,000 smaller than this year’s revised budget.
“We did see some increased valuations that helped us out this year tremendously,” County Manager Michael Scholes said.
Scholes said he was satisfied with how the county’s process played out with a reorganized management structure.
“We’re using our Strategic Plan as a means to aid in the budget process,” Scholes said. “That was really what was new about this year.”
Outlook for the county
The recommended budget keeps the mill levy rate, which determines how much property tax revenue the county raises, flat at 29.359 mills. Even with a flat mill levy, residents could see higher tax bills if their home values went up.
Chief financial officer Lindsay Poe Rousseau said county staff worked to keep spending low enough to not trigger a public vote, which is required under the state’s new property tax lid.
“They (commissioners) expected the budget … would not require an election under the tax lid,” Poe Rousseau said. “The process was designed with that in mind.”
She said they also worked to prevent a “substantial reduction of services” and a deficit in the general fund. There is about a $500,000 deficit in all county property-tax-supported funds.
Poe Rousseau said the county is seeing assessed value grow at about 3.3 percent over last year. That’s higher than the growth they were expecting earlier in the year.
“That was unanticipated revenue that the manager could use to support those higher-priority items,” Poe Rousseau said. “This is an improved situation from where we’ve been in past years.”
Sedgwick County Fire District One, a legally distinct entity that has struggled at times with its fiscal solvency, will see an operating surplus thanks to higher property values in the unincorporated areas and the way the district is managing its vehicle fleet.
What’s in the budget
The budget would provide additional funds to pay for a better emergency communications system, a database for the corrections department, a computer server for the Sheriff’s Office and more crime analysts to help the District Attorney’s Office process video data from law enforcement body cameras.
“We continue to see public safety demands as being a trend that we certainly had to take care of in this budget, across the spectrum,” Scholes said.
The budget also includes future capital spending for a remodel of the courthouse to accommodate the district court and district attorney, which are running out of room in their current locations. It also includes spending in later years for a new county administrative building and elections building.
“Stormwater is an issue and we’ve got to figure out a way to develop a long-term solution,” Scholes said.
A public works crew that works to clear streams of debris would receive $382,322 in more equipment and personnel.
A dollar increase in the solid waste fee will generate $226,000 for remote-collection events after storms. And the budget would reinstate $250,000 for a storm debris contingency fund that was eliminated in the budget two years ago, Poe Rousseau said.
“There’s been an increased emphasis on that (flood control) from citizens and from commissioners in the last year,” Poe Rousseau said.
Poe Rousseau said the county could save money by shifting how often the public works department does preventive road maintenance on county roads. Maintenance on every road would shift from every five years to every six years under the proposal. That change was offered last year but dropped before the final budget was approved.
The budget would also spend $2.8 million to pay for 10 bridge repair and replacement projects next year with debt by issuing bonds, instead of paying for them in cash. Scholes said commissioners are interested in the “strategic” use of bonding on capital projects, an issue that’s been divisive in the last two budgets.
“That shows you how targeted it is,” Scholes said. “It’s focused specifically on bridges. We changed our model on how we do bridges, and that is going to serve us well into the future.”
The budget would also restore $15,000 in funding to the Arts Council, one of the cultural groups that was cut on a divided budget vote two years ago.
“We’re in a different environment right now because we have seen increased valuations,” Scholes said. “There is an opportunity to put back in some of those things that we’ve cut in the past.”
“I think that’s important, especially in terms of … cultural experiences to support opportunities to give back to the community,” he added.
Arts Council president Martha Linsner said the funds, if appropriated, would benefit individual artist grants, education and community partners like the Tallgrass Film Festival.
“We will use it to advance our efforts to promote culture … in line with their efforts to promote quality of life,” she said.
The funds would bolster programs that are harder to fundraise for, said former council president Arlen Hamilton, who campaigned against the cuts in 2015.
“These grassroots programs … make a thriving, tight-knit community,” he said. “The current makeup of the County Commission better understands the needs of the county and they have a much broader view of the common good.”
Under a new funding agreement with the nonprofit zoo board, the Sedgwick County Zoo would receive funds for infrastructure improvements and maintenance.
Poe Rousseau said the budget includes more money for utility costs and medical services for inmates at the Sedgwick County Jail.
“Just like at home, costs go up every year,” she said. “We knew that we had to at least accommodate for that as well.”
The budget would provide additional funds for community engagement efforts and 10 new polling locations.
Poe Rousseau said the budget includes a 2.5 percent pay adjustment for employees across the board. It would also include a 0.5 percent pay adjustment to better recruit new employees and to boost veteran employees who have hit the maximum pay level.
The county will host morning and evening budget hearings on July 19 and July 31, respectively. There will also be a social media town hall on July 25.
Residents can now view the recommended budget at www.sedgwickcounty.org/finance/2018budget.asp.
Commissioners are scheduled to adopt a final 2018 budget on Aug. 2. This is the first budget considered by new commissioners David Dennis and Michael O’Donnell since Karl Peterjohn and Tim Norton left the commission following last year’s elections.