County approves of 2.9-mill increase
After some last-minute finagling, Douglas County commissioners Wednesday night unanimously agreed to a 2.92 mill levy increase to support its 2009 budget.
That would allow for expenditures of more than $43.07 million, which despite the mill increase is slightly below expenditures of $43.25 million budgeted for 2008. The increase also is not enough to prevent budget cuts to county departments and agencies ranging from 1.5 percent to 20 percent.
The mill increase was necessitated by cost increases in health insurance and fuel and oil, as well as cuts in county funding received from the state and federal governments. Other factors included flat property values. An increase of more than 5 mills would have been necessary to keep services at the same level as 2008.
A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.
During last-minute discussions, Commissioner Jere McElhaney argued for reducing funding to the Lawrence-Douglas County economic development reserve fund while being critical of the Chamber of Commerce leadership during the past year. Commissioner Bob Johnson disagreed with the cuts, saying he thought it was important to plan for development, but he also said he would go along with it.
Earlier in the week, commissioners were looking at putting $540,000 in the economic development fund. That was reduced to $300,000. Commissioners also cut $200,000 from a reserve health insurance fund.
McElhaney wanted to reallocate some of the funds cut from economic development to the Douglas County Extension Service. But Commissioner Charles Jones and Johnson balked, saying that would open a "Pandora's box" leading to a reassessment of other county-funded agencies.
Formal approval of the budget won't come until mid-August.
In other business, at Jones' recommendation, commissioners said the Douglas County District Court could go ahead and search for a new judge pro-tem. The state normally pays for judges but has never agreed to allocate funding for the Douglas County position. The county stepped in several years ago to fund the pro-tem position because of increasing caseloads. The position became vacant earlier this year.
Jones, however, said the court should include the judicial nominating committee in the process of selecting a judge pro-tem. Johnson and McElhaney agreed.