With a potentially accelerated time table, the Harvey County Commission started to turn its collective attention towards the passage of an official 2018 budget as an initial draft was reviewed at Monday's regular meeting.

County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber noted the budget was put together with the intent to avoid a tax lid election. However, if one is necessary, he said the max mill levy must be set by the commission by June 26.

As it currently stands, Swartzendruber stated there were a number of factors taken into account in drafting the proposed budget, most notably the implementation of the tax lid and how that could inhibit the county, the pressing need to address drug and crime prevention issues, maintaining county infrastructure and keeping turnover rates in the workforce as low as possible.

Swartzendruber noted the preliminary version of the 2018 budget does not require a tax lid election, moving and amending some department requests to be addressed at a later date. Among supplemental requests, most notably, the request from the sheriff's office for two additional investigators remained in to address the drug/crime prevention that has become a focal point this year.

Making the money work for that would require a proposed increase of about half a mill to raise $154,000 in additional funds, just shy of the $185,000 to cover the expense of the two new positions.

"We want to be able to fund those new positions for the sheriff's office with new revenues as opposed to having to cut one-time revenues or cut other ongoing revenues to fund those positions," Swartzendruber said.

To make up the additional $30,000 to fund the investigator positions, there may have to be some cuts, but that, too, is based on some assumptions the county has to make at this point. With an increase of 1.81 percent to the assessed valuation, Swartzendruber noted that the total amount of new taxes the county could levy under the tax lid would total $379,077, though the county is also estimating some increased expenses in areas like health insurance, worker's comp, etc.

None of the numbers are set in stone, but the possibility of a tax lid election has expedited the budgetary process. With plenty to discuss already, the tax lid has only complicated the process.

Funding both new law enforcement positions would require a half a mill raise, according to Swartzendruber, while the commission will also be faced with the question of taking the max increase allowable or risking being shy of that and not sure of the financial situation it may face in years to come.

"That right there is why they say when tax lids are implemented everybody usually pays more taxes," commissioner Randy Hague said, "because everybody builds the cushion in every year, where if you didn't have the tax lid there wouldn't be a need to do that."

Decisions are yet to be made, but Swartzendruber did admit that if no tax lid election is needed, the budget process can be slowed down to fit the normal timeline.

In other business, the county commission:

Heard a report from commissioner Chip Westfall on a successful city-to-city visit to Ponca City, Oklahoma, this past week, as well as an update following the Amtrak inspection train that stopped in Newton Friday, noting there is a lot of interest from officials in Oklahoma and Texas to get a rail expansion worked out.
Approved the bid for a new batwing mower for the Solid Waste Department, though not without some discussion regarding some unclear specifications. There were questions from the commissioners regarding whether the 10 gauge deck of the lowest bid ($11,828) from Ravenscraft would be able to handle the workload as compared to the seven gauge decks of models bid by J&H Farm Equipment. While Solid Waste Superintendent Rollin Schimdt stated the 10 gauge model would work, the commission had some reservations. Commissioner Westfall suggested rejecting all bids and starting the process over again. However, a motion was made and approved, 2-1, to purchase the lowest bid of the heaviest duty seven gauge models submitted from J&H Farm Equipment — because of the heavier duty gauge — for a total of $12,850.
Learned of issues regarding bridge work being done near the Reno/Harvey county line, with commissioner Ron Krehbiel noting he has received questions regarding any county contributions to the work. Road and Bridge Superintendent Jim Meier stated that, based on a maintenance agreement, that bridge is under the authority of Reno County.
Discussed the county's use of the Geographic Information Systems software and the request for a couple additional licenses that were brought up in budget hearings after commissioners heard a presentation on the alternative of using the state GIS software. Communications Director Don Gruver and Michelle Sorrell and Craig Clough of the appraiser's office were adamant that the state system is "bare bones" and less detailed than what the county uses — using the same base image without all the details that departments like those in Harvey County enter in on a routine basis. Clough noted, too, that the counties using the state's GIS pull from outside companies for the details Harvey County currently puts in (i.e. addresses), meaning they might not always be accurate. The department heads voiced their preference to keep utilizing the county's current GIS software.
Accepted a lease agreement with Midwest Aircraft Services for Newton City/County Airport Hangar B, lining up the lease agreement with another the company has in Hangar E so that both expire at the same time (March 20, 2021). The agreement included a minimal increase (about $40) in cost to the lessee.
Heard of some issues with the new 800 MHZ communications system that occurred over the weekend, finding the issue in a piece of equipment installed at the KDOT master site. While emergency communications moved back to the old system for a time, the issues have now been resolved.
Received a report from Health Department Director Lynnette Redington informing the commission that the department had received about 25 percent of funds requested through KDADS in a joint effort with Mirror Inc., while she also noted that Blue Cross Blue Shield would be on site for a visit Monday as they tour the final 16 sites (with eight to be selected) for a Pathways grant.
Approved the letting of bids through the Road and Bridge Department for the ultra-thin bonded asphalt service project on South Kansas Avenue, while also hearing about the potential to work with Dustrol on some additional Hot in Place patching on a stretch of SE Lake Road (stemming from a contract for work with Sedgwick County on Greenwich Road).
Heard a report on the activity of the Silver Haired Legislature from Harvey County Representative Wayne Valentine.
Received a request from the Kansas Department of Transportation to utilize a county road for a detour related to an upcoming bridge repair planned for the section of westbound Highway 50 coming onto Interstate 135. No action will be taken without the county's consent, Meier noted, but he also suggested having county staff review the stretch that would be used for the detour before work begins and commissioners were in favor of pursuing an agreement that would see KDOT cover the costs of any issues the detour may create.
Passed resolution 2017-8 to quit claim a tract of county land to Habitat for Humanity, which is adjacent to a tract the organization purchased in the recent tax foreclosure sale.
Learned of the Planning and Zoning board's passing of by-laws, most notably downsizing the entity from 15 members to nine members, while also hearing of the approval of a zoning change for Whitetail Crossing (west of Hesston) and a variance allowing a homeowner on a three-acre tract of land to add on without affecting surrounding farm land.