Mill Levy Increases By 3.991 In Shawnee County, 2014 Budget Set

TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- Thursday morning Shawnee County's mill levy was increased 3.991 mills from last year. The vote passed 2-1 in the county commission's meeting. The 2013 mill levy is now at 48.187.

The 2014 budget was a heavy topic at the meeting, with Commissioners Shelly Buhler, Kevin Cook and Bob Archer coming to a conclusion. Costs were cut $4 million from last year, putting the 2014 expenditures at $95,382,364. The general fund ending balance is at $7.7 million after $3 million was added. Archer had called for a $4 addition but the motion died.

Cook moved to reduce cash reserves from $4 million to $3 million, but Archer said that cash is "dangerously low. It's risky to make that kind of change. [It's] what a previous commission would do, not this one." Cook and Buhler said that number could be revisited. Archer responded by saying reducing cash reserves is a "bad place to start," and if anything, they should increase the amount in reserves.

Throughout the meeting the commissioners commented that deciding the budget was one of the hardest decisions. Archer said "everyone is going to find something to hate," and said he doesn't like the budget, but he'll support it. Buhler agreed.

Cook however, at the end of the meeting, when all three voted to adopt the 2014 budget, was the only one to dissent. He said his conscience could not allow him to support a budget that does not serve social/mental programs. He also disagreed in increasing the ending balance by $4 million instead of $3 because cuts were made to social services.

Archer said they have to be worried about the credit rate reducing, that they'll have to borrow money, and "it sends a message to citizens that we're not managing their finances."

"I've had many sleepless nights," Cook said. "And this has quite frankly been the hardest point in my life to date, deciding where to make these cuts, knowing full well that my actions will result in the termination, unemployment and financial impact on many families in Shawnee County."

Buhler commented that in all her time on the Commission, they have never had to cut social services - until now.

Archer asked Cook what would make him support the budget, to which Cook suggested taking $500k from Parks and Recreation and giving it to mental health services, or eliminating the Shawnee County Park Police and moving it under the Sheriff's Office. Archer and Buhler said they could not support that.

Parks and Recreation's budget, after a $1.5 million cut, is now at about $4.2 million.

"We've slashed by millions," Archer said. "No one is receiving salary increases next year."

"We'll face the challenges together," Buhler said.

Mental health services at Valeo and TARC, as well as social service grants and service programs for the elderly all took cuts, totalling $630,000.

Community Resources Council Director Nancy Johnson asked the commission not to cut services for the homeless, elderly and mentally ill. Johnson said Topeka can have the most beautiful downtown, but that will mean beautiful fountains for the homeless to bathe in and wide sidewalks for them to sleep and beg for food on.

Many came to show support for Dave Sterbenz in the Emergency Management Department. His job was on the line, as commission decided whether to move Emergency Management under the Sheriff's Office. Sterbenz thanked the crowd for coming out to support him, and later found out that he still has a job. Emergency Management was voted as an independent agency, and its budget was set at $200k.

The Sheriff's Office budget did not change from last year, but the District Attorney's Office did get an increase of $250k. This sparked some discussion amongst the commissioners and District Attorney Chad Taylor. He had requested a $300k increase to maintain operations and benefits, saying that anything under a $250k increase would force lay-offs.

Buhler wanted to reallocate $150k of the DA's budget for mental health, but the vote ended up taking $50k and putting it toward the Shawnee County District Court, with Buhler dissenting.

The District Court then saw a budget decrease of $103k instead of $153k.

Shawnee County Audit-Finance Director Betty Greiner said the the Parks and Rec merger into the general fund added $8 million in expenditures from 2011 to 2012. The recommended cash reserves should be 18 - 20% of the budget, but at the end of 2013, they make up less than 5%.


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