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1-18-2012


Nothing is
off the table

One week after saying
no change to park tax

by Valerie Verkamp and Ivan Foley
Landmark staff

No decisions have yet been made, including apparently any decision on a suggestion to lower the amount of the half cent park tax while at the same time creating a law enforcement tax.

That’s the latest in the continuing saga surrounding budget challenges--present and future--at Platte County,

A week ago at a hearing during which the 2012 county budget was adopted in front of a packed meeting room, associate commissioners Kathy Dusenbery and Jim Plunkett both remarked that they have no interest in revisiting the half cent park tax, which was approved for another 10 years by voters in August of 2009.

But on Tuesday of this week, the commissioners, in particular Dusenbery, were less definite in their publicly expressed mindset.

The Landmark this week asked Dusenbery if the stop order the county commission put in place on park tax funded community center projects was still in place. The commission had issued the stop order after Eric Zahnd, county prosecutor, had first proposed that the commission give voters the chance to consider dropping the park tax down to 1/8 and adding a quarter cent sales tax for law enforcement.

The stop order seemed a moot point after last Tuesday’s meeting when a majority of the commission--Dusenbery and Plunkett--publicly stated they had no interest in revising the voter-approved half cent park tax measure.

In response to the question from The Landmark as to whether the stop order is still in place, Dusenbery said: “Yes. We need to look at everything. So until the three of us (county commissioners) sit down and look at all options, nothing is off the table.”

That remark does not eliminate action involving the park tax.

“Law enforcement spoke out loud and clear that they need additional funding. So I think we need to look at all possible options,” Dusenbery added.

The county commission’s changed attitude this week puzzled Zahnd.

“Two of the three commissioners said unequivocally last week that they would not now consider a ballot initiative to split the current parks tax between law enforcement and parks, meaning my proposed solution to the fundamental structural flaws in Platte County’s budget is a non-starter with them,” Zahnd told The Landmark.

In other comments, for the first time Zahnd exposed what he says the county commission of Dusenbery, Plunkett and then-presiding commissioner Betty Knight discussed in 2009.

“As I understand it, the commission’s preferred plan when they sought renewal of the parks tax was to split the half cent evenly between parks and law enforcement. For some reason, they scuttled that plan before placing the question on the ballot,” Zahnd said.

Zahnd emphasized that only the county commission, and not any other elected officeholder, can take the steps to allow the voters to reconsider the half cent sales tax for parks. He also pointed out that only the county commissioners can decide to continue or stop work on expansions to the community centers.

‘My sole concern is that we adquately fund law enforcement in this county. It is essential for the commissioners to develop a long-term strategy to provide sustainable funding for public safety and other core government services. They have pledged to do that, and I look forward to hearing their plan.”

The commission’s actions revolving around the 2012 budget have come full circle. Sheriff Dick Anderson said the commission’s initial budget would have forced his department to cut deputies. Zahnd said the commission’s initial budget would have forced him to cut an assistant prosecutor position.

After some intense testimony at a public hearing and the same at a meeting of the Platte County Republican Central Committee where all three commissioners appeared, the commission last week approved a budget that gave both the sheriff and the prosecutor their requested funds. It also gave the sheriff an additional $142,500 above and beyond what he had asked for, with the intent being the sheriff could use that money to add three deputy positions.

Complicating the budget process this year is a recent approved contract with Motorola to meet what the commission says is a federally-mandated narrowbanding requirement for emergency radios. The cost of that project is $10.7 million.

When the commission approved the 2012 budget last week, one of the changes explained was that the commission would not “push ahead” as much money for the radio project.