County approves 2014 budget
By SCOTT AUST
After a brief discussion about the possibility of cutting some funding from the Finney County K-State Research and Extension budget, the Finney County Commission approved a $37.4 million 2014 county budget following a public hearing Monday morning.
Commissioners made no changes to the overall budget, which includes a nearly two-mill increase in the property tax levy compared to this year. Next year's mill levy was set at 39.109 mills, a 1.989 increase over the 2013 mill levy.
The county's valuation, which won't be officially certified until October and may change, is $499,786,455, a slight increase over last year's valuation of $497,204,462.
Commissioner Roman Halbur was the lone vote against approving the budget. He suggested cutting the Extension budget, set at $200,000, and the $27,500 soil conservation budget, essentially as a kind of protest or message to the state.
During budget hearings the past several months, commissioners heard that the state is cutting its contribution to the Extension service by 10 percent. Halbur indicated the state seems to think local governments will increase funding to cover those state cuts, something he strongly disagrees with.
"You listened to our representatives sit right here and tell us that the state was going continue to cut budgets that they knew we were going to pick up," Halbur said. "This isn't a lot of money, but I think we ought to cut both those budgets 10 percent. It will hold the state off in shoving things down to the county to pay."
Commissioner Duane Drees agreed that the county shouldn't be expected to pick up what the state cuts, but the county also shouldn't match those cuts.
"I think if we hold our budgets exactly the same for those entities, it also sends a message to the state that we're not going to pick up with what they cut," Drees said.
Commissioner Cliff Mayo also opposed cutting the Extension budget due to the impact on the local 4-H program, noting the hard work those kids and their parents do each year during the county fair.
"I don't know anything that teaches a kid more than those kinds of things, working with Extension agents and parents, and learning the ins and outs of life," Mayo said. "I can't imagine we ought to cut further ... those kinds of programs. I'd be very concerned if we set the precedent that 4-H isn't worth the dollars we're talking about here."
Ray Purdy, treasurer of the Extension Council, told the commission that K-State Extension officials have indicated state cuts won't trickle down.
"We have been told ... that any funding that will be reduced will be absorbed in Manhattan, and won't come through any county budgets so that the county has to pick up any of those funds," Purdy said.
Commissioners left the local Extension and soil conservation funding unchanged.
Overall, commissioners made no changes to the draft budget approved a month ago. Roughly half of the less than two-mill increase is a result of pay increases for county employees.
The proposed budget includes a 4 percent salary increase for employees, which involves a 2 percent cost of living raise at the beginning of the year and another 2 percent set aside for performance pay throughout the year.
One of the commission's budget goals for this year was to take care of employees and department budgets first before considering the needs of outside agencies.
The county cut as much as it could to keep the mill levy increase less than two mills, Commissioner Dave Jones said.
"Our human resource director shared with us that our turnover rate is approximately 20 percent. That's why we took a real careful look at salaries this year with a bit of a cost of living increase for the first time in years," Jones said. "A 2 percent cost of living, it's not much, but we hope it's an indication to employees that we value their service."