The Ellis County Commission — with a unanimous vote and little discussion — approved a 2018 budget for the county’s general operating fund and the Ellis County Fire Department.
County departments worked to hold the line on spending, and the budget does not reflect significant changes over this year, County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes said.
“It provides for no mill levy increase for the general operations of the county,” he said. “There is a small mill levy increase for Fire District No. 1. It provides most of our current services will continue at current levels. No increases in staffing; no major cuts either.”
A public hearing took place at Monday’s commission meeting, but no residents were present to comment.
Next year’s budget does not call for a tax increase to fund general county operations, but rural residents will pay a little more for fire protection. The mill levy for Fire District No. 1 was increased by approximately half of a mill, bringing the levy to approximately 3.8 mills.
That change only affects residents in unincorporated areas and the city of Schoenchen. The cities of Hays, Ellis and Victoria are excluded, as are rural landowners in a section of eastern Ellis County near the city of Gorham.
The mill levy for rural fire protection also increased by approximately 0.4 of a mill in this year’s budget. The need for additional funding in 2018 was sparked by a much higher call volume. The 2016 year was the department’s busiest ever, with a 25-percent increase in services, Fire Chief Darin Myers said previously.
Only halfway through 2017, the department already had beaten last year’s record, having seen a call increase of nearly 30 percent over all of 2016.
The county’s overall mill levy will hold steady at approximately 36.7, nearly the same as last year.
Total spending authority for the county’s 2018 general operations will be approximately $23.6 million. Spending is up slightly from last year, but that is offset by increasing revenue, largely due to higher valuation. That has allowed the county to hold the mill levy steady, despite a sharp rise in employee health insurance costs.
Ellis County has not seen a significant mill levy increase since the 2016 budget, which was triggered by sharp drops in oil valuation. Again facing declining valuation for 2017, the commission last year asked all departments to cut spending and made a few staff and departmental changes to help avoid a tax increase.
Commission Chairwoman Barbara Wasinger praised county staff for their continued efforts.
“Thank you for all your work on it, our county administrator as well as our department heads and elected officials that have worked really hard to get this ship-shape. And I mean ship-shape,” Wasinger said of the 2018 budget. “It’s never easy. But I appreciate the work that’s been done. So let’s just keep doing that.”
In other business, the commission:
• Had a 15-minute executive session to discuss labor union negotiations, with no action taken. County Counselor Bill Jeter previously said the county has reached tentative agreements with two of its four employee labor unions, but “salary issues” remain a sticking point with remaining groups.
• Gave consensus for the county appraiser’s office to purchase a new vehicle under the cost of $45,000.
• Received a letter of resignation from the current Victoria Township clerk. The commission will need to appoint someone for the vacant office.
• Heard an update of a possible EMS collaboration with Trego County. Trego had requested if it would be possible to contract with Ellis County for emergency coverage in the eastern part of that county to shorten response times. Ellis County had sent a proposed agreement more than a year ago, and recently received a signed document from the Trego County Commission. That document, however, has been changed and does not specify geographic boundaries or financial responsibilities, Smith-Hanes said. He will work with other county officials to make changes to the document.