Ellis County commissioners believed they balanced the numbers in the 2019 budget enough to have it formally presented next week without a mill levy increase.
Commissioners started the discussion with more than $285,000 to resolve. By the time talks ended, they pared that down to about $13,000.
Much of the discussion focused on Fund 16, a reserve fund for future equipment purchases. County Administrator Phil Smith-Hanes went through the fund department by department with the commissioners, looking for money that could be transferred out of the reserve fund. Department heads who were present were asked what they would be willing to give up.
Ellis County Appraiser Lisa Ree was reluctant to part with $55,000 that would go toward aerial photography fees shared with the City of Hays possibly next spring, but was willing to give up $60,000 targeted to fees for three-dimensional images of buildings in the county.
“I will admit that’s kind of a wish list. It would be very beneficial to have that, but we could still do our job without it,” she said.
Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees was not one to volunteer any of his budget request when asked by Commission Chairman Dean Haslehorst, however.
“My department’s different than most others. I don’t run cars. I run people and we have salaries,” he said, adding 95 to 97 percent of his budget is salaries.
“Our only issue is are you going to bring my people up to mid-level and bring them up to where they need to be,” Drees said.
In his budget presentation last month, Drees sought an increase of $38,000, most of which would be used to raise salaries to more competitive rates for the three assistant prosecutors.
Smith-Hanes said his department could put off replacing a pool vehicle, offering $20,000.
The commissioners gave up $5,000 of their own in the reserve fund.
“If we’re asking other people to do it, we should do the same,” Commissioner Barb Wasinger said.
The largest amount repurposed was $130,000 from the county treasurer’s equipment reserve.
“It’s just sitting there,” Wasinger said in response to Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst’s suggested amount.
“They don’t have any planned expenses,” Commissioner Marcy McClelland said.
Among the departments commissioners avoided taking requested operating or transfer fund from were the sheriff’s office, road and bridge, solid waste and district court. They did reduce the public works department’s increase in fuel in the operating budget by about $27,000. That is still 33 percent more than what the department has spent for diesel, Smith-Hanes said.