County Manager Hannes Zacharias recommended County Commissioners consider adopting a maintenance budget for 2016 along with a modest property tax increase. This year’s budget presented to the Board of County Commissioners offered three courses of action for funding the organization in 2016 with Zacharias advocating a “middle of the road” approach.
“It’s normal in any budget process to investigate options of maintaining, expanding or cutting service levels,” Zacharias said. “In most years with solid economic growth, a constant mill levy would be feasible and would provide a starting point for the proposed budget. However, that is not the case this year due to previous use of one-time funding for ongoing operational expenses, legislatively-driven elimination of the Mortgage Registration and Collection Fees (MRCF), and reduced reserve levels.”
“The county has not raised the mill levy for nearly a decade, but several new challenges are before us,” Zacharias noted. “During the recession, we cut $46 million dollars and 428 positions from our budget; however, with the changes in state legislation affecting our budget, and the many cuts we have already taken, additional reductions would make it impossible to continue our current level of existing services for our residents.”
As alternatives for consideration, Zacharias presented a listing of the County’s major service areas that highlight tax support and the staff-assessed level of criticality should the Board select the option to reduce services by $13.7 million; and he presented an option which included maintaining existing services plus expanding services for future growth as identified by the Johnson County Library, Johnson County Park & Recreation District, and the Johnson County Transit Council.
Maintaining current services: The Proposed 2016 Budget
The county manager’s proposed budget for next year totals $913.5 million with estimated expenditures at $728.4 million and $185.1 million in reserves to maintain the programs and services currently administered by Johnson County Government’s 32 departments, offices and agencies. The budget includes $900,000 in savings and efficiencies identified by staff through the current budget process.
The proposed budget includes a 1.622 mill levy increase for the County Taxing District, which would raise $13.7 million at the cost of approximately $4 per month for the average Johnson County homeowner. When added to the County’s current taxing levy of 17.764 mills, it would raise the mill levy to 19.386 mills (still the lowest in Kansas). The total estimated mill levy is 24.892 mills and includes the Johnson County Library and Johnson County Park & Recreation District, whose mill levies remain constant in the proposed budget.
The 2016 proposed budget includes 3,841.95 Full Time Equivalents (FTE’s), an increase of 19.54 FTE’s from the 2015 budget (only two of these positions would be funded by the county mill levy; the others would be funded through other taxing districts, fees and grants).
“During the last decade the Johnson County population increased by approximately 60,000 and the County cut its staff by 12 percent. The result has been fewer employees serving a much larger and continually growing population,” Zacharias noted.
The proposed budget also includes $2.7 million in requested ongoing additional resources, $4.4 million for one-time requests for additional resources, and $22.2 million for the 2016 Capital Improvement Plan for various capital projects which don’t have dedicated funding sources. These include:
Expanding current services:
Johnson County Library and Johnson County Park & Recreation District have recently completed long-term planning efforts, and their master plans each include recommendations on how to plan for growth in the County for the next 20 years. Each of those plans offers various levels of mill levy increases that will fund the opening of new parks and libraries, the upgrading of existing facilities, and more recommendations for handling population growth. The Johnson County Transit Council has recommendations for how to improve the County’s transit system by expanding Para-Transit routes and adding Metcalf Connector routes.
The 2015 Johnson County Community Survey revealed satisfaction levels of nearly 90 percent with both County parks and libraries. Johnson County Library and Johnson County Park & Recreation District master plans, along with population projections, show that usage of both systems will continue to grow.
“If thousands more people will use our parks and libraries in the next two decades, common sense says that investments will need to be made to maintain the high satisfaction levels our residents have in these two beloved institutions,” said Zacharias. “With our recent planning efforts and the recession behind us, the time seems right to improve and enhance library capacity in our County, and open thousands of acres of dormant parkland. Improving our public transit system helps reduce poverty by getting people to work, and helps the disabled and elderly, some of our most vulnerable populations.”
Decreasing current services:
The BOCC received the option of maintaining a flat mill levy which would result in a $13.7 million cut in services. The budget presentation provided the BOCC with an itemized list of all major County services, each identified as Critical, Necessary or Valuable, as well as the amount of tax support for each service area. A group of 80 staff members from across the organization participated in a comprehensive review of the County’s services in order to prioritize them and analyze the impacts of potential funding reductions.
Details about the 2016 proposed budget, the current FY 2015 budget, and the budget process are available at the County’s main website at www.jocogov.org.