Funding decisions from Topeka threaten Sedgwick County budget, CFO says

Decisions made in Topeka remain Sedgwick County’s biggest financial threat, the county’s chief financial officer told commissioners Wednesday.

Chris Chronis said he looks for the state to push costs down on local government. Unfunded mandates continue to be a problem for the county, he said, using the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch at Lake Afton as an example.

The county runs the boys ranch, which serves troubled boys, for the state. The state gives the county $126 per day per boy. The county says its cost is more than $200 per day per boy.

Last year, the Kansas Legislature approved a $750,000 grant for the ranch. The county had asked for $1.5 million.

Chronis said he looks at it like a business person does a customer who owes him money. He said he was thankful for the $750,000 but still views the state as owing the county a debt.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau took exception with Chronis’ example, saying the county chose to subsidize the ranch for decades and is now looking to cast blame on the state.

Another issue playing out in Topeka also could affect the county, Chronis said: a push to eliminate the mortgage registration fee, which officials estimate could reduce the county’s revenue by $8 million a year.

The fee is paid when someone takes out a mortgage. The current fee is a one-time payment of .26 percent of the principal debt securing the mortgage.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said he thinks the federal government’s spending also is a threat to the county, mentioning specifically the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

The county’s revenue was up just less than $2.5 million in the last quarter of 2013 compared with the same quarter in 2012, Chronis said. Revenue for property-tax-supported funds in the last quarter stood at just more than $226 million. The county’s spending also was up at just less than $226 million.

“We think that we are moving in the right direction,” Chronis said. “The recovery is still fairly slow as compared with past slowdowns.”

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