Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 2002

County reeling from state budget cuts

December 11, 2002

Leavenworth County Commissioners have clamped down on spending.

And they hope it's enough for the county to weather the budget storm unleashed two weeks ago as Gov. Bill Graves announced the state would hold onto $48 million that was heading to Kansas cities and counties.

Last week, county commissioners enacted a hiring freeze and a wage freeze. They also decided that they must approve any county expenditure of more than $100 and the public works department must submit purchase orders daily.

County commissioners said utilities and gasoline are the only exceptions.

"Those are immediate," said Commissioner Don Navinsky.

And they may last awhile.

"It could go on for two or three years at this rate," said Commissioner Joe Daniels.

The governor ordered the budget cuts in an effort to slice away at the state's projected $312.1 million budget shortfall.

Among county departments hardest-hit is the public works department, which depends on the state for some funding for road and bridge repairs. County commissioners estimated the department would see $588,000 less than anticipated.

"What you'll see is a decline in our road improvements, and a slight decline in services," Navinsky said. "The county personnel won't have the smiles on their faces they normally do."

Daniels said commissioners must make some tough decisions.

"Is it a necessary program?" he said they must ask themselves concerning every expenditure. "We're going to have to stretch to make it."

Road, bridge funds

Dave Mahoney, supervisor of Leavenworth County's public works department, is bracing for a $600,000 cut to his department's 2003 road and bridge budget a cut Mahoney predicts will double if state finances don't improve.

The cut stems from a Nov. 26 order by Kansas Gov. Bill Graves to reduce state expenditures by $78.1 million.

"Normally we get distributions four times a year a couple in the spring and a couple after July," Mahoney said. "If they don't send the whole thing, it will be $1.2 million."

This would wipe out about 20 percent of the department's $5 million budget for 2003, Mahoney said.

For Leavenworth County residents, this means that the department may not be able to do any road projects, unless they're minimal maintenance, such as chip and seal, Mahoney said.

The department maintains 740 miles of roads and 153 bridges.

Usually about two-thirds of the department's budget goes to road work and the remainder to bridges.

"We're in pretty good shape with our bridges," Mahoney said. "Our bridges are ahead of the nation and state as far as being efficient."

In addition to road maintenance, the department also is responsible for snow removal and the application of salt and sand on county roads during winter months. The department maintains the grounds around county buildings, mows along county roadways, maintains county vehicles and makes road signs. The department also reviews subdivision plats for new developments and special-use permits for businesses.

One road project scheduled to proceed is the Leavenworth County Road 2 project which was let to Linaweaver Construction in October. About 90 percent of the cost of the 1.1-mile road improvement between Evans Road and Kansas Avenue will be funded through a federal safety grant. The county's costs, about $150,000 in construction and $291,405 for right-of-way acquisition, has already been paid. Construction is expected to begin in the spring.

Mahoney said he doesn't plan to cut any of the department's 55 employees' jobs. However, he said he won't be filling vacant positions as the commissioners last week ordered a hiring freeze.

Robbing Peter :

The state's budget cut only will take about $6,000 out of the sheriff department's budget.

But that's not what's worrying Leavenworth County Sheriff Herb Nye, who fears that his department's budget could be cut by the county to feed other departments.

"I think having to bail other county agencies out robbing Peter to pay Paul is what it looks like the commissioners are doing," Nye said. "The departments that aren't going to be hit will have to help the ones that are. I don't mind doing that as long as it doesn't affect emergency services."

Last week's freeze on hiring could hurt the sheriff's department, which is also five officers shy of running a full staff.

"We're five people short," Nye said. "That hurts us as it is and suddenly to have them say you're not going to be able to have them that's just killing us in overtime and such, so I don't know if we're saving money or not."

Nye complained that the hiring freeze was made without first consulting department heads.

"They could have had a meeting with a frank discussion about who should be cutting staff and talking about what agencies are essential services and need to curtail their activities to cut back to a bare minimum," Nye said. "I think some of the money that is being reapportioned is probably going to some agencies that are nice to have but are they really critical to the county's function?"

The sheriff's department works on a $5.2 million budget, of which about $2 million goes to operate the jail.

Nye, who has been sheriff since 1993 and on the department since 1970, said the hiring freeze was severe.

"We've had other crises in the county throughout my tenure," Nye said. "This is not necessarily the worst, but it's the most drastic action that I think I've seen in my 32 years with this department."

Nye said state cuts to the Kansas Highway Patrol could ultimately increase his officers' workloads.

Fewer troopers on road

Kansas Highway Patrol troopers who worked Thanks-giving Day not only missed out on turkey and the trimmings.

They also missed out on holiday pay.

According to KHP spokes-man Lt. John Eichkorn, because of state budget cuts the troopers will take their holiday pay in comp time.

The agency was hit by a $563,000 budget cut in August and a $1 million cut in November. About $26 million of the department's budget comes from the state's general fund budget.

These state cuts led to immediate KHP cutbacks in new hiring, cuts that could leave the department short-staffed.

"We're not going to hire new troopers to fill existing positions and positions that we expect will come open in this year or in the next fiscal year," Eichkorn said.

About 30 troopers will be eligible for retirement by the end of this fiscal year and about 40 by the end of the next fiscal year.

The KHP also eliminated a voluntary overtime program, which allowed troopers to work on their days off for overtime pay.

"That program allowed us to have extra troopers out on our roadways," Eichkorn said.

Replacing holiday pay with comp time isn't the perfect solution, he said.

"For working a two-day holiday such as Thanksgiving, we're going to have to give three days off for time and a half," Eichkorn said. "So what ends up happening is we have less folks out on the roads because of that."

While keeping an eye on expenses, the department wants to remain available to local law enforcement agencies.

"We all work together," Eichkorn said. "The problem is that not everybody has the resources to do it alone it takes everybody working together to be an effective law enforcement presence. The counties are starting to hurt and the cities as well. What we don't want to do is place undue pressure on our locals by not being there."

Staff pulling together

The Leavenworth County Health Department's budget is going to take a hit, said Sylvia Burns, interim administrator.

"We're going to be impacted quite a bit because quite a bit of our funding comes from the state," Burns said.

Since learning of the cuts, Burns, interim administrator since Dec. 2, has been looking at ways to trim expenses. She said the department has 14 full-time employees.

"I've announced to the staff what's going to happen and everyone is pulling together to look at our individual programs and see what we can do to cut costs," Burns said.

Allan Humpherys, administrator who served the health department from Aug. 28 until his resignation Nov. 29 to take a new job, said in November that the department's budget was about $800,000. Of that amount, he said about 20 percent came from state funds.

Burns, who also served as interim administrator during the summer before Humpherys was hired, said last week she was unsure how much the department's funding would be cut. Burns said she did not know if the county's hiring freeze would apply to the hiring of a new health department administrator. The commissioners have indicated that specific hirings could be decided on a case-by-case basis.

City losses not as severe

While the county was hit hard by the governor's action, the city of Tonganoxie is in better shape.

A total of $45,461 in transfers from the state are included in the 2003 city budget. The governor's action eliminated about half of that, and City Administrator Shane Krull said it's possible the state will not send along the other half.

"The city will be able to manage the loss of state funds in a manner that will not reduce current services," he said.

Overtime will be reduced, investments will be reviewed to ensure the highest possible rate of return and the city will continue to shop around for the least expensive items, he said.

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