Monday, June 28, 2021
County Budget Public Hearing
6:00pm @ The River Room
All three Commissioners were present along with the Deputy Clerk Doretta Neville and Finance Director, Susan Bancroft.
Also present were the following: (some were present for a portion of the meeting and some were present for the entire meeting), Donald Coffman, Quita Coffman, Clint Walker, Rachel Walker, Robert Harrington, Josh Jones, Jason E. Silvers, Jared & Heather Lord, Eric W Bailey, Michael Hoyt, Deb Martin, Angel Wilson, Just Meeks, Stana Parsons. There were a few others who did not sign in.
Susan Bancroft welcomed everyone and began with an intro with handouts that gave statistics on property tax levied for 2019 broken down by Department. Along with how Bourbon County ranks compared to other counties of similar size.
Susan went on to say that this meeting is being held to give the community the opportunity to voice their opinion. This is your time to voice what you would like to see done. She stated if the attendees were not comfortable with speaking their thoughts out loud, there was paper provided to write down their thoughts. We will take those back with us and study them.
Lynne Oharah stated that 2015 was a tough year. We were $450,000.00 in the hole. Three hundred thousand of that was in healthcare costs. A few years later we were able to lower mills. Legislature has recently changed the law stating that if we want to raise the budget in 2022 we have to have a public hearing. Lynne went on to explain that the General fund encompasses Treasurers, Clerk, Attorney, and Register of Deeds. Appraisers and Road & Bridge are independent budgets. They will submit budgets and the Commissioners and Susan Bancroft will review. Our goal is to lower the mill levy.
Jim Harris reiterated that the goal is that the mill levy go down. We want departments to do more for less. We are asking every department to look at their budgets. Services cost money, roads cost money.
Clifton Beth stated that in my own household things cost more today than 5 years ago. Same for the county. Gas costs county the same as everyone else. Maybe we get a little break because we buy in bulk. Our workers don’t get paid enough. They deserve raises. It all costs money.
Jim Harris stated that Susan Bancroft is the first of shared services between the city and the county.
Lynne Oharah stated I worked with Jim for 6 years. He had a flat budget. We did more with less. Eric Bailey is the same way. He is losing key employees to retirement. He asked if we could raise salaries. He’s doing away with positions to give pay raises. Our roads and ditches are in poor shape. Mother Nature is not always good to us. We’ve had a lot of rain. This year was the first year we could add to the budget for ditches/roads. I’m proud of Commissioner Budget. It hasn’t gone up in the last few years. If we travel we don’t charge mileage.
Jim Harris stated Economic Development is very important. There is growth in recreation… ball fields and parks. We need to think outside the box to grow. It isn’t just about jobs. He also stated that they are having trouble finding people to work the Road & Bridge jobs. People are able to make more money right now staying home.
Michael Hoyt stated that he resented the statement that people are staying home because they want to. The dollars are your fault. You should have programs for backhoe operators, equipment operators, etc. One idea would be to connect with the college and have a 6 week program to learn how to operator big equipment.
Jim Harris clarified his former remark that there are people staying home during the pandemic and made more money.
Lynne Oharah stated that this year we were able to incorporate BEDCO and BWERC. I am excited about Economic Development for the city and county. We are highly reliant on hunting. Our largest business for Bourbon County is ranching. We don’t have any place in the county to buy farming equipment or grain for planting. We want to provide those services here.
Michael Hoyt stated that sales tax is why we don’t have any major business.
Lynne Oharah stated that we need new housing and buildings.
Susan Bancroft stated that the shortage of housing is in the city as well as the county. When someone is thinking of coming to Bourbon County/Fort Scott they look at housing, food and recreation. An aggressive housing market is very important.
Clint Walker stated that we have healthcare issues. People that come for medical care, eat in restaurants, shop in stores. If we lose medical facilities we lose a lot of money.
Lynne Oharah stated that Rob Harrington is trying to bring a hospital back to Fort Scott. It will be a game changer if we can make it happen.
Clifton Beth stated that we need not just healthcare but sustainable healthcare. Hospitals don’t operate for free. Even if it is a non-profit they have to make money. The feasibility study will show if we can sustain a hospital or not. The study could come back negative. An Emergency Room is crucial. A typical hospital is an ER, Surgery, Med/Surg Beds, and Obstetrics. Some of these bring in very little money.
Stana Parsons stated that Mercy had some very good therapy programs. A full-service hospital.
Clifton Beth stated that he sees us possibly having a smaller scale hospital. We can’t be a critical access hospital. There is a critical access hospital in Girard. My hope is we can do something like that. Possibly we could have limited surgeries and other more serious health issues would have to be shipped. ER is crucial.
Michael Hoyt asked if we are sure this grant money that we are looking at will fit the definition of healthcare?
Susan Bancroft stated we are still looking into that. We haven’t received final word at this point.
Lynne Oharah stated that the Mercy building was donated with funds. The grant money will be added to make a hospital happen if possible.
Jim Harris asked the crowd, “as citizens what changes do you want to see?
Lynne Oharah stated that shared services started a couple of years ago. We will save at the city level and county level. We aren’t paying double for services. Two audits in a row with disparities. This is the reason we went with a Finance Director. We are also going to add a full-time HR Director. We want to tighten things up. The city offices will be moving to the courthouse. That will save money. We are looking at other possibilities as well.
Susan Bancroft stated that the city was having spacing issues and by moving to the courthouse the issue is solved. It also solves issues on the IT side. In one week we’ve seen savings.
Deb Martin stated that she thinks government is too big. It can’t be sustained. We have to learn to say no to some things. We aren’t Kansas City. We just have too much government locally and nationally.
Jim Harris stated that we have some bridges that are in need of repair or will be shut down. Road and Bridge is under staffed. Noxious weed is in line with the state. Public Safety, Law Enforcement, General Fund goes up. That’s why we are here to ask what you want to see.
Susan Bancroft stated that as she works on budgets this year she refers to statutes for guidance.
Don Coffman stated that some of the inmates could to be trained to help on Road and Bridge crew. They can cut weeds. We used to do that when I worked at the city and some of them were very good help.
Lynne Oharah stated that an in depth study was done and Public Works were lower than most counties. Departments have cut down employees such as Register of Deeds and Road & Bridge. We don’t have the equipment to do everything we need to do.
Jim Harris stated that we are doing more with less. We are offering more services for less. Road & Bridge was down $400,000.00 during my term as Director.
Susan Bancroft stated that we are looking at insurances. Possibly some room for savings.
Don Coffman extended a thank you to the commissioners. He stated he felt they were doing a good job.
Michael Hoyt stated no county needs 7 attorneys. And the County Attorney budget needs to be adjusted so that we don’t end up with mediocre service.
Justin Meeks stated that a data study for wages shows the average county attorney makes $75,000.00. Salaries are much different here. Some of our workers are 30-40% lower than average. Our wages are low for professional positions.
Anne Dare asked about combined services.
Justin Meeks stated that the city will open a municipal court. We are highly taxed and under valuated. You have to have one or the other to get change. From 2015 to now we are down 215 people in the county. That’s a lot of sales taxes gone. We are desperate for smaller government.
Lynne Oharah stated that we use county counselor a lot for contracts. He has kept us out of trouble more than once.
Jim Harris stated that he would like to have work sessions with each department and try to reduce if we can. We need growth. Rob Harrington will help us with that.
Rob Harrington stated that growth is a way to help our tax situation. Thinking outside the box is how we’re going to solve the problem. We need healthcare and better housing. We are connected as a community. Sometimes we attack each other for things through social media or the newspaper. People we are trying to attract can go on these venues and see what we are saying and doing. We have to look at what is best for our community as a whole. We have to work together with all of us rowing in the same direction. We want people to come here and stay here.
Clifton Beth clarified that we will not be spending tax dollars to bring a hospital in.
Jim Harris stated that we have to hear from you all. We work for you. We’ll listen and try to make things better.
Anne Dare stated that with the hospital project, the housing situation and business here that need support. Is there anything on the horizon to help them?
Rob Harrington stated that he has reached out to several developers, there is grant money for housing and the land bank will help. Workforce development is the #1 problem in America. Covid has played a part. In the 1970’s we began having both parents in the household working. Birth rates are down which leaves a shortage of workers. Welfare also plays into it. We have to be creative. We have to work on quality housing more than low income housing right now. We have to convince the person that lives in KC to come here. We are seeing urban and rural areas growing. We will get some of these people. People are trying to get away from crime. West coast people have been drawn to the Midwest. We need to create a county that draws people. We need a hospital.
Michael Hoyt asked about incentivizing people to live here as many drive here to work.
Clifton Beth stated that our situation is not unique. It’s happening nation-wide.
Rob Harrington stated that a housing study costing $10,000.00 to $12,000.00 is very important. What type of housing we need and where the housing needs to be. Some incentives for building housing could be property tax abatement, electrical rebates, sewer rebates, hook-up fee rebates, etc.
Jim Harris stated that most drive ways in SE Fort Scott are better than the rural roads in Missouri.
Clint Walker stated that he saw an article in the Allen County Newspaper. There are two prisoners, on work release, that are working in Iola. Because they have jobs they are planning to move to Iola when they are released.
Michael Hoyt stated there was a disparity of premiums paid and claims paid.
Clifton Beth stated that he is a fan of self-insurance but with an older population in the workforce, there is a risk. Will I agree to self-insurance? Maybe not.
Jim Harris stated that we have good insurance now and we don’t want to lose it.
Stana Parsons asked how long after the feasibility study will we see action.
Rob Harrington stated that the study would take into consideration demographics, medical dollars leaving town, how many people come to or leave town to work, the population increase/decrease. The study will belong to the county once completed. We will be able to use the document to study and figure out the best way to attract individuals and companies.
Clifton Beth stated there are multiple grants available. Some grants require studies to be done in order to qualify.
Rob Harrington stated that the grants we are looking at are related to healthcare and we wouldn’t have to use all money for hospital. There are multi health avenues we can go after with the funds.
Josh Jones stated that he believes sharing services with the county is a good thing. Hopefully at budget time we will see savings.
Clifton Beth stated that there are a lot of things that we as commissioners can’t do. There are also things we have to do. We receive a lot of complaints about executive sessions. We don’t want to do that but the law dictates that we do this. Changes won’t happen overnight. We don’t pay our employees enough. The majority of counties don’t.
Jim Harris stated that he is excited about things we are doing. Tell your neighbors to get involved. If you want changes, let us know.
Lynne Oharah stated that your input is very important. Help us to know how to budget and save.
Clifton Beth stated that as citizens, you have 3 active commissioners. There is action at the city. Pretty positive things for the county and the city. I think this county can really grow.
Anne Dare asked what types of properties are not on the tax roll.
Susan Bancroft stated that churches, not for profits, NRP’s (but are eventually added back), government, parks, cemeteries, ball fields are not on tax roll.
Jim Harris stated that one of the towns in the county had a ball tournament which resulted in $206,000.00 in revenue for the county.
Lynne Oharah stated that there are little leagues in a lot of little towns that bring in revenue.
Susan Bancroft thanked everyone for coming.
(ss) Lynne Oharah, Chairman
(ss) Jim Harris, Commissioner
(ss) Clifton Beth, Commissioner
Kendell Mason, Bourbon County Clerk
July 6, 2021, Approved Date