The Crawford County Commission approved a budget with an increased mill levy to compensate, they say, for reduced funds from the state government.
The commission will raise the mill levy by .732 mills to 49.847 mills, with the authority to spend about $23.4 million in costs for all services in the county. For a person with a $100,000 home, that amounts to an increase of about $8 in their property taxes.
Looking more in depth, most of the funds and budgets in the county either stayed flat or were cut with two exceptions. The first exception was in employee benefits, which rose by about 4 percent because of rising health care costs. The second exception is the road and bridge department, which commissioners said is because the state cut $130,000 from the special city and county highway fund.
“What it amounted to is we absorbed the 4 percent hike for employee benefits with other cuts, but we had to cover the $130,000 loss. We’re pretty close to the money amount in difference. That’s why we had to [increase the mill levy],” said commissioner Bob Kmiec.
The commissioners expressed frustration over dealing with lower state funding, then having to be “the bad guys” and raising the mill levy.
“The state of Kansas pushes everything down to us to make themselves look good. They’re sure looking good, but they want us to take all this responsibility without giving us the funds to go with it,” said commissioner Carl Wood.
Other commissioners agreed with Wood.
“It’s challenging, even gut-wrenching,” said commissioner Linda Grilz. “Each one of us would like to fund things at the levels required for 2013, without a mill levy increase. What we’ve seen and continue to see is the state of Kansas pushing the responsibility to the local level. We absorbed, absorbed, absorbed so long, and we can’t absorb any more without cuts or mill levy increases.”
Grilz said that Crawford County isn’t the only county in this situation. She said “maybe five” in the state are in good shape, but that is because they are in urban areas.
Grilz said one way the state could help is by loosening the gaming restrictions in the Southeast Zone to let the county create its own revenues.
“If they’re not going to help us financially, then don’t tie our hands behind our backs and keep us from doing anything,” Grilz said. “I don’t know what we have to do to get gaming passed, but we need that revenue. That gives us the opportunity to help ourselves. We’re not asking for a handout. It’s pretty difficult to make the budget when you have unfunded mandates and no revenue to do it.”
Andrew Nash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 231-2600 ext. 140.