As the Harvey County Commission addressed the 2018 budget at a scheduled hearing during Monday's meeting, an item that has been a hot topic for much of the 2017 fiscal year drove much of the discussion regarding the budget and how funds should be used.

Newton citizens Jeremy Kindy and Dan Harms spoke at the hearing after previously coming before the commission with a petition that successfully halted the potential sale of Camp Hawk and put that action to a vote (in the upcoming election). Once again on Monday, the pair came before the commission to ask them to drop the idea of a sale altogether.

Watching and listening intently throughout the budget process, Harms questioned how the county could be struggling to generate funds to maintain the county parks (including Camp Hawk) when looking at previous years' independent audit reports. It is those reports that in fact raised even more concerns about the potential sale in the eyes of Harms, as the actual expenses for the parks department came in under what was budgeted based on the most recent audits from 2014 through 2016 — to the tune of $272,183 over that three-year span.

"As we look at budgeting versus actuals, the actuals are what are really telling the story," Kindy said.

"We're struggling to understand how a park is let go into disrepair when you've underspent your budget in a three-year period right before you said the park was in disrepair and we can't afford it," Harms said. "What you think you're going to get out of the park is approximately what you could've already spent in those three budget cycles. It's hard for me as a citizen to add that up and say this makes sense."

On top of that, Kindy pointed out that the yearly savings would be minimal, as the projected numbers for 2018 comparing the expenses and revenues for Camp Hawk would equate to an annual savings of $5,825 if that property were sold. Meanwhile, the ending balance in the general fund for 2018 is expected to grow to $4,371,573 — twice the fund requirement set by the county.

It was noted that minimum reserve fund is what is believed to be best practice when not under a tax lid. The impending application of that lid has created a lot of uncertainty for governing bodies. With the state government still unable to answer questions for local entities, commissioners noted it may take until the end of 2018 to fully sort the situation out.

Mitigating risks is, by definition, what the reserve funds are meant to do and part of the reason why the commission is keen to make sure there is a healthy balance. Commissioner Randy Hague brought up the hypothetical of losing one of the largest industries in the county or dealing with a natural disaster (with FEMA relief funds not always timely) — stating that roads, bridges, salaries, etc. would still need to be paid for regardless of whether revenue streams were lost.

Harms argued, however, that the money in question to help maintain the parks and, in turn, keep Camp Hawk as a local amenity, would be a very small hit to those reserve funds, stating the tax lid argument "feels like a smokescreen."

Noting there has been plenty of input from both sides, both in favor of keeping the park and in favor of a sale, the commissioners seemed content to leave the final decision in the hands of the voters — and more than willing to support it if the vote is to keep the park.

"If the public says keep it, then I guarantee you I'm willing to do everything I can to support it to go on," said commission chair Ron Krehbiel. "To me, at this point, it's up to the people."

"This time next year we could be putting money into the park," said commissioner Chip Westfall. "We just have to see."

Usage of the park continues to be a point of contention as well, though Kindy and Harms highlighted the traffic through Camp Hawk's rental facility (with more than 50 rentals per year).

While the commissioners pointed out the balancing act that is trying to pass a budget while keeping local taxes flat, from the viewpoint of Harms and Kindy the budget is about how to utilize tax dollars to the citizens' benefit. The sale of a community resource, in their eyes, does not fall into that category.

"A park is a public service and I'm not sure that selling a park when the budget looks to be healthy is fiscally responsible. This budget that is being presented, along with the previous year's actuals, does not show that this county is in financial hardship," Kindy said. "I am just laying out the budget and think this commission has made an error in calling for the sale of Camp Hawk due to budget crisis when the budget is rather healthy."

In other business, the county commission:

Received a request for commissioners to RSVP to Tuesday's Circles of Hope Health Equity grant announcement.
Was notified of three openings on local boards that need to be filled with appointments from the commission.
Learned that communication is ongoing with North Newton to address the issue of maintenance regarding NW 36th St.
Approved the appointment of Tim Marlar to the Aging Advisory Council and Rachel Bucklin to the RSVP Advisory Council, waiving the second reading on both.
Approved the area plan on aging (authorizing Sedgwick County as the signing entity), as presented by Central Plains Area Agency on Aging Director Annette Graham, effective fiscal year 2018 through 2021. It was noted that Harvey County agencies are expected to get the same amount of funding as in 2017.
Was notified by Emergency Management Director Gary Denny that Harvey County will be hosting an ICS 400 class this week, with half of the registrants coming from the county and the rest coming from all around the state.
Heard a report on fireworks calls from Communications Director Don Gruver, who noted there were roughly 50 complaints from Friday through Wednesday, with about half of those calls being after hours complaints. There were also five to six small fires reported and one injury.
Received an update from Wayne Valentine on the Silver-Haired Legislators during citizen's forum, noting the local delegation passed six resolutions to bring to the upcoming regional meeting in Salina, with one being a call to repeal the property tax lid set to go into effect in 2018 — which Valentine is hopeful will be taken to the state convention in October.