The 2010 budget hearing for Cherokee County drew a large audience of concerned resident s. So many people were present, that Commissioner Pat Collins had the meeting moved to the county courtroom to accomdate the crowd.

    Collins began by announcing the county has done away with two dump trucks and is combining a road district in order to control expenses. He also added that the county is having to absorb $1,800,000 in decreased real estate evaluations, which will hurt county evenues. The amount of the decrease is sent by the state.    Collins explained the budget will increase 2.5 mills, and 2 mills was from the State of Kansas for the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.    “Labette County went up 7 mills,’ said Collins.

    “Montgomery County went up 9 mills.”    “One-half of a mill is a three cent a day raise on a $100,000 home,’ explained Collins.    He added the county employees will not get a raise this year, and a 24 month hiring freeeze is in place on county employment.

    “Sales tax is down everwhere, except Galena,” noted Collins.    “Hopefully the economy will turn around,and next year should start back up,” he added.    Some residents expressed concern about the amount of money being lost by delinquent property taxes. Collins stated that around $650,000  is being lost by people not paying their real estate taxes.    “That’s about four mills,” said Collins.    Collins added a tax sale is projected to bring these properties back on the roles. However, the legal process to complete a sale will be long and difficult. The last tax sale was in 2001.    Columbus resident Wes Houser asked about employee benefits in the county budget.    “It is a big item,” he stated.

    Commissioner Richard Hiderbrand said that a committee has had three meeting so far and raising deductibles on insurance was a way to cut costs, and the co-pay will increase for the employees.Hilderbrand added that this year four insurance companies are putting out a bid on the insurance benefits for county employees. Whereas, in previous years  only  one or two companies submitted bids.    The road and bridge budget was discusssed. Currently, the amount spent will stay the same. Collins noted that sevearal years back the county had to switch to rock from gravel because of liability issues. This caused the county to increase road spending from $50,000 a year to $500,000  a year.

    The issue of employee benefits arose again, as auditor Gene Mense attmpted to explain specific funds in the budget. Mense said he based health insurance on what the Kansa League of Municipalities recommends.    “The league recommends a nine percent increase for this year,” he said.    Mense said he has not seen the real numbers for this years budget.    “Are we going to interview for a new auditor?” asked Dave Soper.

    Resident Jan Houser asked if the county had a mandatory retirement age.

    Commissioner Jack Garner responed that no age is set. He added that one county employee who worked for twenty years received under $400 a month in retiement.

    “KPERS is a great benefit for school teachers, principals, and superintendents,” he aid.    “The biggest part goes to education.”    “Some people can’t afford to retire,” he added.    At present, salary and benefits to a county employee total $51,000 per package.

     Around $1,900 a month goes to health benefits.    

Some residents were concerned the commission was more concerned about employees than taxpayers.    “I’m concerned about both,” said Collins.

    Baxter Springs businessman Burt Kellum  expressed concern over the tax rates affecting new construction in the county. He noted that of 300 employees at a local business only 30 reside in Kansas. He added living next to two states with lower tax rates makes it difficult for residents and the local economy.

    At the end of the meeting an official with the Quapaw Nation inquired about the expenses the county has incurred in a lawsuit trying to stop construction of a Casino in another state. County Counselor Kevin Cure asked if environmental law were being avoided by the tribe.