Despite a proposed four mill tax increase for the 2014 Harvey County budget, only a few community members attended the public budget hearing conducted by the county commission Monday.
Two community members spoke at the hearing, expressing their thoughts on the budget.
Laurie Hartke said she was concerned about tax increases at the city and county level.
"The citizens of Newton cannot afford to pay more and more," she said. "It is apparent to me some services must be cut or downsized. ... Please try to downsize first before raising taxes so the people of Harvey County can survive."
Leo Stahly also advocated the county make cuts rather than increase the mill levy.
"I don't agree with raising taxes," he said.
Commissioners thanked community members for sharing their thoughts on the budget but said rising costs and decreasing state funding have placed more of a strain on local governments.
"The state of Kansas legislature failed to do its job to fund assistance to the counties for property tax relief," Commissioner Chip Westfall said, adding local governments have had to take on new expenses. "... We're paying for felony prisoners they won't recognize, we're running a driver's license office, we have to pay for the operational side of the district court, and there's just little things that go on and on."
Commissioner Randy Hague said the main reason for the county's proposed tax increase is road and bridge projects. Commissioners feared if they didn't start maintaining more miles of road each year, the county wouldn't be able to keep up with maintenance in the long run. They said they have made cuts in other areas, but it just wasn't enough.
"We worked on this a long time, and the majority of what we're deciding on is roads," Commissioner Ron Krehbiel said.
Hague referred to a research report from the Kansas Association of Counties that states on a per capita basis, Harvey County has the lowest levied tax at $236 per person. The highest is Stanton County at $3,854 per person. Out of the 105 Kansas counties, Harvey ranks at 101 in terms of county mill levy rate, with 31.449 mills. The No. 1 county is Smith at 129.503 mills.
"I was shocked," Hague said. "I always thought we had really high taxes here. ... Unless you leave the state of Kansas, there's going to be very few communities you can move to where you're going to have a lower mill levy."