County changed budget for mental health care, approves $40K expenditure to help Columbus pave road in park

COLUMBUS - It's no secret that Cherokee County has been feeling a financial crunch lately. The residual effects of this crunch did, however, come as a surprise to Spring River Mental Health and Wellness Executive Director Scott Jackson when he abruptly realized his facility's budget had been cut by $10,000 without him being notified.

Jackson appeared before the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners at their weekly meeting Monday morning, to discover both why his budget had been cut, and why he wasn't notified prior to receiving the first installment a few weeks ago.

None of the commissioners seemed initially aware of the change to SRMWH's budget. Jackson cited a meeting last June when the previous Board of Commissioners had approved a budget increase for the facility. Chairman of the Commission Board Pat Collins said the change likely occurred during the budget process, where he said everyone took a hit.

"If it happened during the budget process then it happened because of the LaTurner tax lid," Chairman Collins said.

Chairman Collins is referring to House Bill 2088, which requires public votes on proposed adjustments in property taxes above a rolling three-year inflation average. The property tax lid first emerged on the Senate floor as an amendment from State Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg. The lid was passed by the 2015 Legislature, but the law wasn’t intended to take effect until 2018. That changed in May of 2016, when Gov. Sam Brownback signed legislation to advance implementation by one year, to January 2017.

The lid essentially states that cities and counties won't be allowed to spend an increase in property tax revenues above the rate of inflation without voters' approval. The law contains exceptions for bond payments, spending on court judgments and other items.

Jackson explained that SRMWH is facing an issue of increasing demand for services, accompanying the decreasing revenue.

"We've seen an increase over the last couple years of people coming in with no insurance or Medicaid," Jackson said. "We've had to limit what we can provide."

The commissioners were also unable to answer Jackson's other question, why he wasn't informed of the budget change until receiving the first distribution of funds.

"If it helps any, we didn't find out about it until today at 9 o'clock," Commissioner Cory Moates said.

The commissioners were also addressed by City of Columbus Superintendent Jim Burton. Burton had spoken to the board last week about the county helping with the cost of paving the road at the future site of Crossland Park. Last week Burton was asked to get an estimate of the total cost of the project, which he provided this week at $68,000. A request was made for the county to share the cost of paving equally with the City of Columbus. Commissioner Neal Anderson made it in the form of a motion, not to exceed the county a total of $40,000. Commissioner Moates questioned the request, citing concern if it was a good use of county funds from the perspective of a county taxpayer. Commissioner Anderson said Columbus citizens were taxpayers and that all in the county would benefit from the park upon its completion. The motion passed 2-1, with Moates voting against.