Archive for Thursday, July 9, 2015

Douglas County commissioners reach consensus on 2016 budget; property taxes to remain constant

The Douglas County Courthouse is the seat of Douglas County government.

The Douglas County Courthouse is the seat of Douglas County government.

July 9, 2015

Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday tentatively agreed on a 2016 budget that would hold property tax rates consistent with 2015.

That spending plan may not calm the nerves of the Lawrence Community Shelter's leaders, who are concerned about the homeless shelter's finances.

Wednesday morning commissioners came to a consensus on the budget, which would maintain the county's mill levy at 41.01 mills, the same amount the county is currently levying.

The preliminary budget, which won't be finalized until a formal vote in August, doesn't fully fund the Lawrence Community Shelter's request for $100,000 in immediate funding. Rather, commissioners are offering $50,000 in emergency funding.

Commissioners also agreed they are not ready to approve a separate request from the shelter to increase the facility's 2016 county allocation from $145,000 to $245,000.

"I want to know more about what internal changes they're planning before we get into utilizing funds for 2016," County Commissioner Nancy Thellman said.

On Monday, a shelter representative told commissioners the facility would be forced to reduce staff and likely reduce the number of beds available at the shelter if it didn't receive the $100,000 in immediate funding and an equal amount from the Lawrence City Commission.

After hearing the commissioners' decision on Wednesday, Trey Meyer, the shelter's director of program development and operations, said any amount of money will help the shelter and he's optimistic the city will pitch in.

"That ($50,000) keeps us in business for another month, maybe a little over, and buys us some more time as we continue to improve our own fundraising efforts," he said. "If we're able to get $100,000 from the city and the county, and assuming we really manage our enterprise really, really well, we can get through the end of 2015."

The $50,000 offer from the county is contingent upon an equal or greater contribution from the City of Lawrence, County Commissioner Jim Flory said.

However, if the city doesn't match the county's commitment, the offer is not immediately withdrawn, but the commissioners will need to discuss the matter further with the shelter.

City commissioners discussed the shelter's request for emergency funding Tuesday night and authorized Mayor Jeremy Farmer to discuss a joint city-county aid package with county officials.

Much of the shelter's financial troubles are the product of 'donor fatigue' and unforeseen costs related to the shelter's new location, Meyer said.

County commissioners also made several other preliminary decisions regarding the 2016 budget. They include:

Commissioners denied the City of Eudora's request of $827,780 for Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical. That money would have been used to buy an ambulance and hire and equip seven full-time employees to be housed in Eudora's Public Safety Facility. According to a longstanding agreement between the two entities, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical is responsible for providing fire coverage within Lawrence and paramedic service throughout the entire county. In recent years the department's responsibilities have skewed, said County Commissioner Mike Gaughan. And the shift has led to considerable frustration for the county, largely due to commissioners having an unequal say in the department's ongoing activities, he said. "We are the junior partner for whatever reason in this relationship," Gaughan said.

Commissioners approved funding in the amount of $333,729 for the hiring of six correctional officers for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, but decided against an additional $64,888 to hire a re-entry case manager.On Tuesday, Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern requested supplemental funding from the county for all seven hires.

Commissioners denied Health Care Access for a one-time request of $90,000. The money would have been used to hire an experienced chief executive officer, raise clinical salaries to the state average and help the facility prepare for the possible expansion of Medicaid in Kansas.

Commissioners rejected a request for $450,000 from the Lawrence Humane Society, but approved increasing the facility's 2016 county allocation from $28,000 to $43,000. Kate Meghji, the humane society's executive director, had asked commissioners for $450,000 to renovate and expand the facility and had also asked for the $15,000 increase in annual funding to house more stray animals.

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