By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
County commissioners approved a budget for 2014 that increases the mill levy by 1.829 mills. Though the numbers originally proposed did not change, where some of the money is allocated did after a brief discussion by board members.
After a public hearing was opened, commissioner C.J. Wettstein spoke about taking part of the county’s reserve claims fund, $50,000 to be exact, and putting it into what he called a “good kid” fund to be used on a continued local effort to keep youth out of trouble.
Wettstein said some of that money could possibly be spent on K-State Research and Extension’s robotics program.
“I think it’s a great thing,” he said.
Wettstein said no money had been put back into the good kid fund for this year, and he simply wanted to appropriate $50,000 for 2014. He emphasized that doing so would not increase the county’s budget.
“We’re just making it a fund where it can be utilized for that,” he said.
Wettstein then talked about the county’s juvenile detention fund, saying some of the $300,000 earmarked by the county for that area had been rolled over into the general fund, and it looks as if that may be happening again this year.
He then suggested using part of as much as $5,000 of any money left over from juvenile detention for Extension.
“I think the Extension is doing a very good job on working with our kids,” he said.
Wettstein also suggested doing the same thing with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and he likewise would like to see the City of Liberal match the good kid fund with money from its Focus on the Future fund or from its law enforcement budget.
“I think we’re starting to see some results of everybody really working together pretty good,” he said. “I think district court is working together. I think the city’s working. I think the school system’s working. I think the county’s working. We’ve got the Extension working. We’ve got the junior college working. We got a lot people now. It seems like we’re making a little bit of head way on kids not getting in trouble.”
Commissioner Jim Rice said the county needs to look at annually setting aside money for the 4-H program similar to what was done for the fire station in Kismet.
“It would be nice if they had their own building,” he said of the 4-H program. “If we gather up a few funds each year and put towards that, when it comes time to build it, we won’t have to dig up that million dollars all at once to do it.”
Wettstein said 4-H has a lot of programs being worked on, and he believes the county needs to continue to push kids to not get in trouble.
“If they don’t get in trouble, that’s less money that we have to spend,” he said.
Commissioner Doug LaFreniere said the county is already well invested in the programs, and he noted that BBBS is not an entity of the county.
“They’re a good organization,” he said. “I agree, but we also agreed that this is the limit we are going to give them. I just have a problem with allocating more funds than necessary.”
LaFreniere warned that the county could be taking a similar path that it has in the past that could lead the entity in a bad direction.
“If we aren’t careful, we’re going to be right back where we were two or three years ago the way valuations are dropping,” he said. “You end up hitting them with what the seniors saw this year. They took a big hit on this budget. You just hate to get back in a corner like that.”
After no input was heard from the audience, commissioners then voted to close the public hearing, and Wettstein made the motion to approve the budget with the change to allocate $50,000 out of reserve for claims for the good kid fund.
The board voted unanimously to approve the budget. The budget includes nearly $29 million in expenditures and an increase in the mill levy from 34.808 this year to 36.637 for 2014.