Archive for Wednesday, August 6, 2003

County taxes to increase next year

August 6, 2003

Leavenworth County's tax rate is on the rise.

The 2004 mill levy will increase to 41.18 mills, a rate that is 1.04 mills above the 2003 levy of 40.137 mills.

County commissioner Don Navinsky said that in light of the fact that the county received a total $2.2 million less in payments from the state the past two years than officials had anticipated, he was relieved with the way the budget turned out.

"It came out much better than I thought it would," Navinsky said.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 18 at the courthouse, 300 Walnut, Leavenworth.

Steve Wagner of Wagner and Associates, is an accountant who works with the Leavenworth County Commissioners in preparing the budget.

Along with the mill levy increase is the rising property valuation in unincorporated areas of the county, he noted. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.

"The overall valuations went up about 8.8 percent over the prior year, so that's raising taxes, also," Wagner said.

The county's valuation, which increased an average of 10.5 percent, is set at $414,252,163, Wagner said. A year ago the county's valuation was $374,900,887.

Homes in the county are taxed at 11.5 percent of fair market value, agricultural property at 17 percent and businesses at 25 percent, Wagner said.

The combined additional income from the increase in the mill levy and in property valuations, will total about $2 million, Wagner said.

"Which is about what we lost the past two years from the state," Wagner said.

Because of the tight budget, last November county commissioners enacted a hiring freeze and asked department heads to cut back on spending.

"I think that for the most part, most of the departments held fairly tight budgets," Wagner said.

Navinsky said the hiring freeze still is in effect.

"Every new hire has to come before the commissioners to see if it's really critical or not," Navinsky said. "It helped us end the year better, and the accountant seems to think we're going to make it through the year, hopefully. If everybody sticks to their revised budget, we will just squeak by."

The county has fewer employees now, Navinsky said, since employees who leave aren't automatically replaced.

"You'll see offices where people aren't replaced until it absolutely becomes critical," Navinsky said. "Or else a job may stay empty for two or three months and that makes a difference, too."

One of the biggest challenges for commissioners came when anticipating outside costs.

"When it comes to your buildings and trying to anticipate your heating costs, what natural gas is going to do, what gasoline is going to do, what the road oil is going to be priced at, you have no control over those," Navinsky said. "Those are the ones that tear you up."

Wagner noted that employee wages take up about $12.3 million of the county's $41 million budget. On top of that is an additional estimated $3.375 million that pays employee benefits.

County employees are budgeted to receive a 2 percent wage increase in 2004.

The sheriff's department takes up a major portion of the budget. Wagner said the sheriff's budget is set at about $3.2 million, and the jail is budgeted for $2.275 million next year. It's estimated the jail will bring in about $300,000 in revenue next year.

Earlier this year, commissioners had discussed the possibility of approving about $1.2 million in no-fund warrants to take care of possible budget shortfalls. But instead, Wagner said the county next year may issue temporary notes for capital improvement projects that the county has been putting off. If issued, the notes would be repaid over a three-year period, Wagner said.

Wagner said it's a misconception that hikes in property taxes only affect those who own property.

"If somebody's taxes are going up 10 percent, the rents are probably going up as fast," Wagner said. "So property tax, I feel, affects everybody."

Navinsky said the state, in not paying the expected $2.2 million, is only shifting the burden to the counties.

"In essence they have passed on their no new taxes. But they have forced the local governments to raise their taxes in order to meet the needs that they were accustomed to," Navinsky said. "So, that's the bad part."

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