As the Board of Franklin County Commissioners moves closer to setting a budget for the next fiscal year, cuts to the Franklin County Conservation District may be made.
The commission proposed cutting the conservation district’s budget from $45,000 to $33,131 which is where the county would need to be in order to not raise property taxes.
The commission discussed funding for community partners like the conservation district, Elizabeth Layton Center, COF and Franklin County Services for the Elderly. The conservation district is not the only community partner that might receive less in 2019. The Franklin County Historical Society received $71,000 in 2018 and had requested an increase to $74,550. The commission agreed to fund them with $59,000 next year. The Franklin County Agriculture Society would decrease from $17,210 to $10,000 and the Services to the Elderly would go from $199,000 to $175,000.
The only community partner to have its funding increased was Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) which would go from $4,000 to $15,000. They had requested to be at $25,000. The commission discussed the growing CASA caseload from Franklin County as the reason for additional funding.
During the March 14 meeting, Commissioner Colton Waymire proposed cutting the conservation district funding altogether.
“If we are going to truly manage the ad valorem dollar and property tax dollars and want to make a real change as far as maintaining or lowering the mill levy, we have to spend these dollars like its coming out of our checking account,” Waymire said. “With that being said, with the conservation district and information they presented, I couldn’t write that check with my own money so I wouldn’t write the check because it’s everybody’s money.”
He added that organizations like the Services for the Elderly and Elizabeth Layton Center should be funded because they help people directly.
“There are always other needs,” he said. “This is really an either or situation. There aren’t more dollars to go get. Either the dollars come from somewhere else or they don’t exist. We can’t just raise taxes anymore. The cost is a glaring one that jumps out at me. There’s a very real need to help humans.”
Waymire said he thought some of the services provided by the conservation district could be absorbed by other agencies like the Franklin County Extension office.
Commissioner Richard Oglesby proposed a funding amount of $25,000 so that the district could still get matching funds from the state.
Commissioner Rick Howard said he was on the other side of the argument and disagreed with cutting the conservation district’s funding.
“I know one of the things that commissioner Waymire brought up was that the extension office could pick up some of the things that they do,” he said. “I asked one of the extension office people about whether they could take over some of the conservation department’s stuff. They advised me that would be a huge mistake. They said their programs are excellent and they are well attended. I just don’t think it’s right to do it this way when we haven’t done the leg work. How many of us have been to their programs? How many of us have went and seen what they are doing? How many of us have researched it? I think we should go a year with what they have asked for and what they have been getting and then see if it’s worthwhile down the road.”
The commission voted 4-1 to approve the community partners funding — pending approval of the overall county budget later this year. Waymire cast the dissenting vote.
At the March 28 commission meeting, Doug Smith, chairman of the Franklin County Conservation District and members of the conservation board voiced their concern over the cuts. Following their public comments, county administrator, Derek Brown, said that the new law that did not allow the county to raise taxes more than the rate of inflation keeps a cap on what they can spend.
“So at the same time we are under the tax lid, the Kansas Department of Transportation is cutting the funding to us so we are getting less funds from the state,” he said. “Our health insurance costs are rising exponentially and its to the point where I worry that with the way our health insurance is rising, we might not be able to stay under the lid and still provide health insurance for our employees. We continue to face economic hardship ourselves so these are the decisions that this board is being forced to make.”
He went on to add that the county did not like having to make cuts and the commission spent a lot of time discussing each community partner, but in the end it comes down what funds are available.
“I don’t anticipate revisiting the funding for our community partners,” he said. “When we get to the budget and our finalizing that, the only time we could come back to our community partners is if we face budget shortfalls elsewhere within our own operating budget and have to find more savings. I don’t think we are in a position to have to do that this year but if things don’t change, it’s coming.”