In early look at next year, Ellis County Commission eyeing flat budget

Rafael Garcia
Hays Daily News
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Taxes for most Ellis County residents next year could be largely similar to this year's taxes as the county commission eyes a virtually flat budget.

At the commission's meeting Monday afternoon, county administrator Darin Myers gave the commissioners a first look at the proposed 2022 budget.

The budget includes an increase of $491,000 to $24.4 million in the county's general fund. The biggest chunk of that increase stems from an additional $410,000 as part of a new bridge fund requested by the commission and an increase of $81,000 in transfers to the county's highway fund. Each will be funded by their own one-mill levies.

Other notable changes in the budget include a decrease in solid waste expenditures of about $129,000, as well as an $6,600 increase in the Ellis County Fire Department's budget on account of new dispatch software licensing.

Commissioner Butch Schlyer said even with a projected increase in county employees' salaries, he was okay with the budget, particularly since the proposed road and bridge funding will address some issues on approximately 1,400 miles of roads and 190 bridges that the county maintains.

The budget season will continue through the summer, with the commission likely approving a budget in August.

In related business, Myers told the commission that the county is well on track to save $600,000 in yearly healthcare costs after the county voted to switch from the Kansas state employee health fund to Freedom Claims Management, Inc. Though the change only recently happened, the county in just the first quarter of 2021 saved about $157,000 in its insurance rates.

In other business

The commission also adopted a resolution opposing the designation of 23 Nebraska counties and 26 Kansas counties — including Ellis — as part of a National Heritage Area. Commissioners argued that the area could deprive landowners of their ability to use their property as they see fit.

While the resolution has no legal effect, Schlyer said he wanted the public to know the commission's stance.

"I think it’s a good deal, and people need to know where we stand on it in our own county," he said. "A lot of this ground has been in farmers’ hands and families’ hands for generations, and we need to leave it that way. It’s not our job, it’s not the government’s job to come in and say they can take any ground away."

The commissioners approved a request from the Ellis County Fair Board to begin renting the rodeo arena. While expected revenue for the county would likely be less than $1,000, the commissioners said that would be better than receiving no revenue, and at least that revenue could go toward paying insurance for the facility.

Fair board vice president Justin Schneck said people or organizations who rent the arena would be required to pay a $150 refundable deposit, to be returned after use and cleaning of the arena.

Additionally, the commission approved the purchase of a 2021 Dodge Ram 1500 truck for Ellis County Health Services for $32,800 to replace an aging 2005 Tahoe. Commissioners asked health services director Jason Kennedy to explore whether other county departments could use the replaced Tahoe before potentially selling it.

Separately, the county commission approved the purchase of a $23,500 UTV to be shared by the noxious weed and building and grounds departments in use of their seasonal duties.

Commissioners signed off on a $107,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation to add pavement parking, rimble strips and signage at the Walker and Pfeifer road intersections of Old US-40.

Election workers will also receive slightly higher pay after the commission accepted county clerk Bobbi Dreiling's request to boost pay from an average of $115 for regular poll workers and $140 for supervisors to $135 and $160, respectively, for training and election day duties.

The pay change also marks a change from an hourly rate to a set rate, in line with what other counties in the area do, Dreiling said. Supervisors will receive federal mileage reimbursements as well.

Dreiling said that a decade has gone by since election workers last received a pay increase, and with elections coming under increasing importance and scrutiny, she wanted the county's pay to properly reflect the appreciation for their work.