Archive for Monday, July 16, 2012

Douglas County commissioners approve budget for publication that leaves mill levy unchanged

July 16, 2012

After about two hours of discussion Monday morning, the Douglas County Commission passed a budget that will require no increase or decrease in property taxes for next year. Much of the discussion was a rehash of previous differences in funding priorities among the three-member commission.

Commissioner Jim Flory, a Republican, wanted to cut the Heritage Conservation Fund by $250,000 and the economic development fund by $100,000. That would have allowed the county to maintain funding for social service agencies and add new jobs in the appraiser’s and public works departments while keeping the capital improvement budget as high as possible. Commissioners Nancy Thellman and Mike Gaughan, both Democrats, opposed cutting the heritage fund. Flory responded by pulling most of his other budget recommendations because, he said, he was against “spending on wants when we have needs.”

Flory was outvoted on almost all issues in the meeting by Thellman and Gaughan, although they had disagreements with each other as well, notably over how much to fund the Lawrence Community Shelter.

Thellman wanted to grant the shelter’s request for a one-time $50,000 infusion plus an increase in annual funding from $15,000 to $100,000. Gaughan proposed granting the $50,000 one-time request plus $50,000 in annual funding. Flory initially suggested $30,000 in one-time funding but withdrew that recommendation after his cuts were denied. The compromise proposed by Thellman and accepted by the commission was to cut the heritage fund by $25,000 to help pay for a one-time $50,000 payment to the shelter and to raise its annual funding to $80,000.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug recommended a higher capital improvement fund for next year to give the commissioners a “safety net” in the event of state funding shortfalls or possible declines in the county’s property valuation. Weinaug’s recommended budget included $4.32 million for capital improvements, up from about $4 million last year. In the compromise passed Wednesday, the commission cut $244,730 from Weinaug’s recommendation.

All three commissioners agreed to add $46,924 for a new job in the appraiser’s office as well as $55,636 for one new road and bridge employee. Keith Browning of the public works department had asked for two employees at a cost of more than $100,000. The commission agreed to add one employee now and perhaps amend the budget later to add another. The money for that second new position, they said, could come from the nearly $70,000 budgeted to hire four new emergency dispatchers. The dispatchers will only be hired if the Lawrence City Commission agrees to share the costs, but that funding wasn’t in the proposed city budget.

Gaughan, the commission chairman, said this year’s process was much like previous years’ in the dispute over the heritage fund and a few other issues.

“But the difference about this year is that we came out with a compromise for action,” he said.

The budget will now go to a public hearing at 6:35 p.m. Aug. 8 on the second floor of the County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.

Other changes to the recommended budget passed Monday include:

• A $5,000 one-time allocation for the Lawrence Humane Society. The group had asked for a one-time $15,000 allocation plus a $7,000 increase in its budget.

• The Emergency Management Department got $42,170 for two new tornado sirens. It asked for four.

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