Ellis County Commissioners face tough decisions in coming years on how to balance the county’s budget. There are three candidates for the one open seat on the commission, District 1, who think they can can find the best solution. Each one is asking voters to cast a ballot for them Nov. 6 in the general election.
District 1 covers the northwest area of the county, including the city of Ellis. The candidates are John Walz, independent, Butch Schlyer, Republican and Chris Rorabaugh, Democrat.
The Hays Daily News asked each candidate to answer five questions about their views on issues of importance to the residents of Ellis County and the Ellis County Commission.
Below, candidate John Walz is the third in the series of three question-and-answer email replies running over the course of three issues of the paper. Rorabaugh’s answers were published Friday, Oct. 26. Schlyer’s were published Sunday, Oct. 28.
Tell us about your background, where you live, your family, where you’ve worked and what qualifies you as a good candidate for commissioner.
I am a lifelong resident of Ellis County, living in Ellis for over 30 years, a native of Yocemento. My wife is Mary Jo, and we have four grown children and 11 grandchildren.
My work background is the following: I worked for the City of Hays at the Water Treatment Plant for four years. Owner/Operator of the Taco House in Hays for eight years. Worked in law enforcement for the City of Ellis Police Department, Fort Hays State University Police Department, Ellis County Sheriff’s Department, and Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department for a total of 33 years. I believe my work experiences have given me a background of working through issues to come up with common sense solutions.
I have also been on the following boards where budgets were kept in check without over-burdening the tax payers: Ellis City Council for 11 years, Ellis Recreation Commission for 10 years, U.S.D. 388 school board for eight years, and K-18 baseball commissioner for 16 years.
I will not make promises I cannot keep. The only promise I can make is to be prepared by doing my homework on all issues, be honest, fair, approachable and a good listener.
Over the years of public service I have found some of the best solutions have come from those I serve. I am proud to be from Ellis County, Kansas!
Will you allow a mill levy increase to resolve the serious budget shortfall Ellis County faces in years to come.
First of all the State of Kansas placed a cap on raising property taxes. An approximate maximum amount that could be collected for the 2020 budget year would be $400,000. We are looking at a $2.5 million to $3 million dollar shortfall in 2020.
I am against raising property taxes at all but there could be a raise of some amount to balance the budget. We cannot legally spend more money than we bring in revenues. Any increases in taxes will depend on what our deficit actually is in 2020, if the tax payers are in favor of reducing services, or the citizens allow a county sales tax increase.
Will you cut services or employees to balance the budget, and if so, what areas would you cut and how would you make that determination?
This is a question that has to be asked of the taxpayers who are receiving the quality of life services. Commissioners need to lay out what the consequences of each cut will do to services. The citizens need to have an opportunity to voice what they are willing to tolerate as lost services.
The commissioners will need to provide extra meetings for public input if services are being looked at being cut back. It has been suggested to use attrition to cut employee costs when someone retires but there can be unexpected consequences to this approach. The remaining employees are asked to pick up the lost duties, which can lower morale and work quality. You cannot take anyone off of the street and fill positions, as these are skilled positions. Public Works is already using 10 less employees from years past. Many of the other county departments also are operating with less manpower from years past. Most services are regulated by state statutes and must be provided.
Will you support a countywide sales tax to help balance the budget, and if so how much?
Again I do not want to raise any taxes but we cannot continue to overspend the budget. I believe a sales tax increase is the better option allowing those passing through and doing business in Ellis County to help us provide dollars for our budget.
A half-percent sales tax increase would add an estimated $1.44 million and a 1 percent sales tax increase would add an estimated $2.88 million. Once again this has to be approved by the citizens of Ellis County.
Ellis County Commissioners in September reduced their salaries 5 percent. Will you cut the salary, health insurance or retirement benefits of county commissioners to reduce county spending?
To be an effective county commissioner a minimum of 20 hours a week must be put into the job. I have no problem cutting wages in half and any other cuts to commissioners that need to be made to balance the budget. We also need to think of the future of getting people to run for offices; we do not want to cut benefits completely. Ellis County could have problems getting people to run for office down the road.
How can the county help keep young early-career residents in Ellis County?
We must “toot our own horn” promoting the quality of life we have to offer. This is where we have a fine line, when it comes to cutting services, as we may become a county with less of the quality-of-life options that the young people of today expect. Ellis County also needs to be involved in getting additional water sources. This has been a stumbling block to getting new business opportunities to locate here, which would provide additional jobs and tax revenue.
Please get out and exercise your right to vote, no matter who you vote for!