County budget

Dickinson County Commissioners will consider a proposed budget of $23,710,671 funded by a 55.912 mill levy during the public hearing set for 11:15 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 15.

The proposed mill levy is up 1.893 mills over the 54.019 mills levied in 2019. Based on the proposed mill increase, the owner of a $150,000 home would see an increase of $32.65 in county property taxes, said County Finance Director Janelle Dockendorf.

A mill is equal to $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.

“The budget is up about $1 million from last year,” Dockendorf said.

The 2019 budget was set at $22,268,006 in August 2018; however, Dockendorf estimates that only $17,935,344 (as printed on the published budget hearing document) will be spent by year’s end.

The budget is always estimated higher than the amount actually spent because the county must have the budget authority to spend the money.

Commissioners approved publishing the budget during their Aug. 2 meeting. “The budget has been amended, altered, tweaked and changed based on your comments and desires over the last several meetings,” County Administrator Brad Homman said.

Commissioners started budget talks back in May.

The mill levy is based on several factors, including assessed valuation, cash carryover, revenue and expense projections for the current year and the upcoming budget year.

Dickinson County’s assessed valuation is up this year, increasing from $215,209,613 to $222,533,553.

“If assessed valuation hadn’t gone up, it (the levy) would have been a bigger hit. Then it would have been looking at what services we either cut or don’t provide,” Dockendorf said.

Replenishing R & B

and new employees

The majority of the 2020 increase is due to replenishing the road and bridge budget and funding five additional county staff positions.

“We’ve been eating into our cash carryover in road and bridge, so that’s one of the reasons why the road and bridge department budget is up,” Dockendorf said. “I’m trying to bring the budget back up so Martin (Tannahill, road and bridge supervisor) has the budget authority to go in and do bridge replacement, shoulder and road work and things like that.

“We have had a KDOT (Kansas Department of Transportation) payment of $900,000 and didn’t replenish (the R&B fund) and there’s five positions that we are adding into the budget,” she said.

The new staff positions include a receptionist and two jailers in the sheriff’s department, a new county extension agent to serve the needs of senior citizens, and moving the victim’s rights advocate in the county attorney’s office from a grant funded position to a regular staff position.

Dockendorf also said the noxious weed budget was up slightly and she had to budget for additional sales tax dollars the county has received this past year from the special sales tax that can only be used to fund road and bridge projects.

“That special sales tax in particular has been a godsend,” Dockendorf said. “It’s allowed us to complete projects like the Eden Road Bridge, Union Road Bridge, overlay on Old 40 and 2200 Avenue that we wouldn’t have been able to pay for out of the highway road and bridge operating fund.

The mill levy increase has nothing to do with the new jail project and courthouse renovation, Dockendorf said.

Also, the $23 million proposed budget complies with the property tax lid enacted by the Kansas Legislature several years ago, she said.

The state’s property tax lid only allows an increase in the mill levy in relationship to the state’s average consumer price index increase for the previous five years.

Base pay increase

Another factor in the increase was the need to bring up the base pay so the county can retain and attract quality employees.

Time after time, county officials have reported over the past couple years about job vacancies created when county employees left to take a higher paying position elsewhere.

Commissioners directed Human Resources Director Diane Greenough and Dockendorf to come up with a pay plan that increases the earnings of employees at the lower end of the pay scale, while adjusting the rate for management so their pay increases were not so high.

“I call it my high-low plan to try and get our base rate up,” Greenough said. “So folks at the lower end of the pay plan get more money while folks at the high end — who are already earning more— aren’t getting as high a percent.”

Greenough said it would be too cost prohibitive to apply the same rate throughout the plan.

Since the majority of county employees are at the “lower tier of earning dollars,” Dockendorf said it is important to get their wages higher and more in line with salaries offered by surrounding counties and/or private business.

Two weeks ago, Dickinson County had 11 job openings, including three in EMS, four in road and bridge, two in the jail and two deputies.

“That’s the highest we’ve had at one time in the last 15 years that I’ve been here,” Greenough said.

Dickinson County’s entry-level pay is lower than the four surrounding counties.

“Over the years the commissioners have tried not to raise the mill levy so the raises were minimal and we didn’t keep up, but it gets to the point where we have to do something, especially for the road and bridge department,” Greenough said.

Starting salary for a Dickinson County Road and Bridge employee is $12.94 per hour, but that employee could take an entry level job in one of the surrounding counties and make anywhere between $.70 to $1.25 more, Greenough said.

The same person could take a job at a local or area manufacturing plant and be making several dollars more per hour to start.

Also, oftentimes the county has found that it hires and trains new employees who then use that training to get another position elsewhere.

“Of course, we’ve had some people leaving to change careers, others decide to go to school, get married, move or other life changes,” Greenough said.

Outside agency requests

Each year, the commission gets requests from “outside agencies seeking county funding. This year’s big increase was the request from the Extension Council for $322,450, up approximately $50,000 from last year’s $272,500, to pay for the new position of Adult Development and Aging agent.

The person in this position will serve the county’s senior population with the various issues they encounter, including applying for Medicare and Medicaid.

While Extension has already been providing the service on a part-time basis since 2017, the number of seniors needing help has increased to the point that a full time agent is needed.

But unlike the three current county agent positions that are funded by Kansas State University through K-State Extension, Dickinson County will need to fund the new job.

Other agencies requesting monies and the approved amounts include: Conservation district, $30,000; Juvenile Detention Center, $63,183; Flint Hills Task Force on Aging, $12,807; Central Kansas Free Fair, $60,000; Tri-County Fair, $4,500; Dickinson County Historical Society, $72,500; Central Kansas Mental Health, $91,815; OCCK, $110,250; tourism in county, $12,500; and Dickinson County Economic Development Corp., $125,000.

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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