by Valerie Verkamp
In the nick of time, the Platte County commission unanimously approved the 2012 budget, which contains significant modifications from the budget proposed by the commission merely a week ago.
In short, the adopted budget gives the full amounts requested by both the prosecutor and the sheriff, and gives an additional $142,500 the sheriff can use to hire three additional deputies.
So where did the money come from?
The commissioners said they will not be “pushing ahead” as much money for the federally-mandated narrow-banded radio project. The total cost to the county is expected to exceed $10.7 million dollars over the next decade.
The adopted budget also does not sweep special funds belonging to certain officeholders, specifically the collector and assessor, into the general fund. That was a point of contention in the initial budget discussed at a budget hearing on Jan. 3.
During the public hearing last week, Zahnd questioned the legality of the commission's proposed transfer of special funds into the general revenue fund. “By statute, those accounts are controlled by the assessor and the collector, who are independently elected officials,” said Zahnd.
In addition, at the conclusion of Tuesday's budget discussion, two commissioners--Jim Plunkett and Kathy Dusenbery--announced they have no intention of taking any action to reduce the half cent sales tax for parks, as the prosecutor had proposed as an option. Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown made no specific statement on the topic.
Last week, Eric Zahnd, prosecutor, suggested the county commissioners propose to voters the idea of reducing the half cent sales tax for parks and replace it with a 1/8 cent sales tax for parks and a 1/4 cent sales tax for law enforcement, rather than the commission making its proposed cuts to officeholders “while spending millions upon millions on frills such as massive expansions of community centers including water slides and Olympic-sized swimming pools.”
The county's half cent sales tax for parks is estimated to bring in $82-90 million over the next ten years.
During the public hearing on Jan. 3, officeholders addressed the commission strongly rejecting the “draconian cuts to the core functions of government.” Following the public hearing the commission voted to table the budget to engage in a renewed budget discussion with officeholders.
On Tuesday, Kevin Robinson, Platte County auditor, announced the recent amendments that were made to the budget since last week's hearing. One of the amendments included increasing the prosecutor's office funding to $1,253,386. That is an increase of $40,362 from what the county commissioners originally proposed.
Zahnd said the commission's original budget would have forced a reduction in his staff. He said he was pleased with the new budget, but cautioned that a long term solution is needed.
Zahnd said, “I am pleased the commission has abandoned its plan in the 2012 budget to cut half a million dollars from the county's law enforcement agencies. It is now essential for the commissioners to develop a long-term strategy to provide sustainable funding for public safety and other core government services.”
Margie Maasen, who is the president of the non-profit volunteer group Friends of Platte County Parks and Recreation, requested that the commission continue its support of recreational parks and trails in Platte County.
“We think that is a big reason why people want to live here and it keeps us healthy, as well as happy,” said Maasen.
Louis Buntin, a citizen of Dearborn who spoke in favor of the park's tax, said he would be concerned that sufficient money will no longer be available for the completion of the parks projects, which includes a community center for the City of Dearborn.
In a press release issued by the county commission on Jan. 5, the commission stated they issued a stop work order on the planning and construction of the community centers. Based on Tuesday's statements by Plunkett and Dusenbery against the idea of considering any changes to the park tax allocation, it is unclear why the commission issued the stop order press release.
Francis Moran, who was formerly superintendant of the North Platte R-1 School District, told the commission in his opinion the park's grant “has served the Northland well” specifically the baseball field recently constructed in North Platte.
“I think the best thing about the park's grant is that it encourages volunteers. In constructing this 1200 square foot facility—bathrooms and concession stand--there wasn't one dollar spend to pour the concrete, construct the building, putting in electricity, the plumbing, and the roof. It was all done by volunteers,” said Moran. “When this issue was voted on in 2009, it was done so even though we were in the middle of the deepest recession that we have seen in decades. They approved it because they saw it as an efficient use of tax dollars and they also saw that there was some value in improving communities.”
Dusenbery added that she is proud of the success of the park's program and looks forward to its future success.
The sheriff's office budget will also be significantly altered. The commission increased the sheriff's office budget to $7,255,146. That is a increase of $846,763 from what the commission proposed on Jan. 3, which would have resulted in major cuts to the sheriff's office including a reduction of deputies. The increase in funds will now allow for the hiring of three additional deputies or a pay increase for the sheriff's current staff.
Moreover, the commission plans to follow through with their proposed cuts including the closing of the Annex in Platte Woods, the elimination of a switchboard operator position by converting into an automated phone system, as well as changes to the in-house mail delivering system.
Following the announcement of the amendments, Plunkett said that Sheila Palmer, Platte County collector, has offered to transfer $150,000 from her office's tax maintenance fund to the general fund. The auditor recommended making this amendment to the budget during a budget amendment hearing on Jan. 30 when other necessary amendments to the budget will be made.
“Once this budget is approved we would have to come back and do transfers and amendments. So I already anticipated having a public hearing on Jan. 30 and we can address it at that time,” said Robinson.
Robinson noted the public administrator stills suffers a $20,000 cut from her budget and the recorder of deeds stills suffers a $14,000 cut which will be presented for correction on Jan. 30.
“I want to make sure that everyone understands this process was not a simple process,” said Robinson. “I hope everyone understands the amount of time that you spend working on this. I look forward to seeing your plan on the (narrow-bandeded) Motorola contract going forward.”