Riley County commissioners wrapped up 2015 budget work sessions Monday afternoon and reached a consensus on a mill levy increase of .432 mills.
A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value.
The proposed increase puts the county levy at 37.524 and it won’t be finalized until public hearings in August.
Considering the average home valuation has increased 2.3 percent, a homeowner paying $426.56 in county taxes for a $100,000 home in 2014 would pay $441.45 for a $102,300 home in 2015.
It would go into effect Jan. 1 once officially approved by the commission later this summer.
Commissioners also included a 1.4 percent cost of living adjustment (also known as COLA) increase for county employees.
“When we first started this I wasn’t sure we would be able to get under a mill (for an increase),” Commissioner Dave Lewis said. “I feel comfortable that this is acceptable.”
Commissioners Ron Wells agreed.
“(Especially) considering the impact from the state,” Wells responded.
“Yes,” Lewis said. “That’s going to continue to be one of our challenges, and this is one of the things we’ve said earlier on is that we have had obviously tremendous increases in the cost overall of running government and when the state throws more on our backs, that’s going to continue to come our way.
Earlier this summer, commissioners asked department heads to trim back where they could — whether holding off on new technology or equipment, or holding off on construction projects, especially in public works.
“I want to thank you for plugging in the 1.4 percent COLA for the employees,” County Budget and Finance Officer Johnette Shepek said. “That’s very admirable.”
“We said we’d take care of them,” Boyd said.
“We’re very proud of our employees,” Lewis said.
Wells said there are delicate steps in formulating a budget, and when funding from the state decreases, it makes that task even more delicate.
“The danger — and what I’m scared of is — is that if you work, work, work, short-change, and get (the mill levy) down so low, say a 2-mill increase and next year another 2-mill increase, so a 4-mill increase, that’s a little more palpable,” Wells said. “But if we (go too low this year) and next year we end up with a 4-mill increase then people aren’t happy.
“We can’t predict the future, so we need to be prudent on how much we cut. We don’t want to over-cut because we could get caught with twice what we want to do next time.”
“He’s absolutely right,” Boyd said.
“We’re taking a risk. This is a cost-benefit thing. We’re operating on a shoe-string next year.”
Commissioners are hopeful, though, that the continued growth in Manhattan will result in increased sales tax revenue, which is more important than ever for county governments considering the state’s current budget woes.
Lewis said early on it wasn’t a guarantee the commission would be able to include a COLA increase, but he was thankful they made it work.
“One of my first statements (in this budget process) was that we’ve been good to our people, and that may have to change,” he said. “But through the decisions we made we didn’t have to change that, and that’s something I’m very proud of.”
County expenses are estimated to be $31,074,581 — an increase of $1,095,359 from the 2014 budget.