Outside agencies that depend on money from the Ellis County budget won’t take quite as bad a beating in 2021 as in 2020.
The Ellis County Commissioners on Monday evening said they plan to restore money that was cut in 2020 to some agencies, and for others will maintain the reduced levels, rather than cut more, for 2021.
“I think last year it was a very good exercise to reset expectations,” said Commission Chairman Butch Schlyer, during the commission’s regular meeting. “The county can’t be everything to everybody. It just can’t be.”
For its 2020 budget, the commissioners in 2019 cut outside agency funding requests by $123,000. They ended up giving $928,800 to 13 agencies, and eliminated funding for two.
The 2021 budget, while hit hard with a future loss of oil valuation, is buoyed a little by voter approval this month of a half-cent in countywide sales taxes. Sales tax proceeds over the next 10 years will generate an estimated $2.2 million annually for the county.
“I don’t think any of those outside agencies should look at further cuts,” said Schlyer, as the county begins to look at outside funding requests for 2021 over the next couple months.
“No, I don’t think so either,” said Commissioner Dustin Roths, referencing the sales tax election. “I think this was a statement from the people of Ellis County that they’d seen us do enough cutting. Hopefully (the agencies) can maintain and talk to us fully about what they need.”
Schlyer said he’d like to see funding restored to High Plains Mental Health, which was cut by $20,000 last year to $260,000.
“I think that’s very important,” he said of the agency that serves 20 counties in northwest Kansas. That money could come specifically from the quarter-cent sales tax dedicated to health services, said interim county administrator Darin Myers in the meeting at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.
Schlyer also spoke for restoring money to the Ellis County Conservation District, which lost about $17,600, to get $72,250.
“I know the farmers really took a hit with that,” Schlyer said. “And probably I would like to see everybody else come in about the same.”
Commissioner Dean Haselhorst said he’d like to restore the $24,000 cut from Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas. The agency, which got $216,000 from the county, serves 551 intellectually disabled adults in an 18-county region, 34 percent of those in Ellis County. DSNWK in 2019 had a wait list of 125 people.
“I know in the past five years we’ve cut ‘em and cut ‘em and cut ‘em. I guess I’d like to see some of that possibly restored,” Haselhorst said.
“They do a lot for Ellis County and northwest Kansas,” he said, including for the county’s jail population.
Roths agreed with restoring money to both High Plains and DSNWK.
“The health tax was designed for mental health services,” he said.
Cutting DSNWK, he said, “was one of the tougher cuts that we made last year … we’re talking about at-risk in our community and that is definitely something I did not want to have to continue to do.”
He also spoke in favor of maintaining 2021 funding at 2020 levels for other agencies.
“The people have spoken,” Roths said. “Last year I think we took a lot of heat from people about what we had to do, but I think that now they realize that we were serious about it and that it was important. I think we’re in a good position, that was, as Butch said, a good exercise in frugality. And now we get an exercise in investment and planning. And planning will be super important over the next few years.”
“We don’t want to get into the position we’re spending everything we’re getting,” Haselhorst commented during the discussion.
“Absolutely not, we can’t do that,” Schlyer said. “This is only a 10-year deal. And the taxpayers will be watching.”
“Oh yeah, and they should,” Haselhorst said.
“Absolutely,” said Schlyer.
“If we don’t build unencumbered cash, plan, and invest in their infrastructure they’re not going to be happy with us,” Roths added.