COLUMBUS - After hours of deliberation in a public hearing that spanned over a week, the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners approved a budget that will increase county taxes for property owners by nearly 10 percent. The decision to approve the 2018 budget was reached on a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Cory Moates voting no.

The 2018 budget calls for net expenditures of $15.2 million, compared with an estimated $14.6 million in net expenditures for the 2017 fiscal year, a difference of about $571,932. County officials anticipate the budget will require an increase in the supporting levy of 4.55 mills, from 47.298 to 51.852 mills. At this time, the mil levy is an estimate based on June valuations.

The public hearing for the budget began on Aug. 21, but due to the commissioners being unable to reach an agreement, it was extended to Aug. 28. Citizens voiced multiple concerns throughout the hearing. On big issue discussed was the Health Insurance premiums that are being paid by employees, and the amount being spent for employee benefits.

Commissioner Neal Anderson said that he had worked a plan to increase the employees' portion of the health insurance by five percent per pay period. The increase would be five percent of the total cost of the plan that each employee is on. Commissioner Anderson said that the savings would be $75,000 to $82,000 per year, or almost half of a mill. He said the single plan would increase by $36.72 per month. The family health and dental plan would increase $81.68 per month.

County Auditor Gene Mense said that the plan would create a .503 mill levy reduction in the employee benefit fund. That would set the county mill levy at 52.350.

A motion was made by Commissioner Anderson to increase the employee rate for Health Insurance by five percent per pay period. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Moates, and carried motion carried 3-0.

A motion was then made by Chairman Pat Collins to reduce the remainder of one mill from the casino revenue for 2018. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Anderson, and carried 3-0. Mense stated that the mill levy would be 51.852 as a result of that action with a total budget for expenditures of $15,214,593.

Commissioner Moates made a motion to take the $10,000 increase from Economic Development and give it back to the Extension Office. The motion died for lack of a second.

Finally, Chairman Collins made a motion to adopt the county budget at 51.852 mills for 2018. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Anderson. The motion carried 2-1 with Commissioner Moates voting no.

The full adopted budget for 2018 can be viewed at www.cherokeecountyks.gov.