Discussions that preceded the passage of Platte County’s budget for this calendar year hinted that there is still some life in one of outgoing commissioner Jason Brown’s priorities: revising the parks tax.
Near the end of Brown’s tenure last year, a citizen advisory committee appointed to study the county’s jail capacity recommended that the county reallocate 25 percent of its sales tax for parks, using the money for law enforcement instead. Brown voiced public support for the realignment, which would have to be approved by voters.
Critics of the proposal alleged that the group received covert instructions from Brown, which Brown’s supporters denied. The county commission took no action to put the tax transfer on the ballot.
After winning election to Brown’s presiding commissioner seat last year, Ron Schieber described the lack of action on the tax transfer as a “missed opportunity.”
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Schieber did not respond to email inquiries or messages left at his office, but Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson and others said that during budget deliberations, Schieber voiced interest in revisiting the idea of realigning the parks tax. Robinson referred further questions to Schieber.
Commissioner Beverlee Roper opposes any tax transfer, as she did last year. The parks tax, she said, is connected to bonds that were created with an agreement the that they would be repaid with the half-cent sales tax for parks.
“Realigning this tax … could open the county up for a lawsuit. The bondholders were promised a half a cent until 2020,” she said.
On the prospect of a vote to redistribute the parks tax funds, Roper added, “I don’t think it will ever pass in Platte County.”
Roper said the political and economic calculations of the effort are the same under Schieber as they were under Brown: Take from parks projects and give to county law enforcement.
The strongest argument for a move like that would be to build the county jail’s capacity, which Roper said is addressed in the 2015 budget: $100,000 was set aside to study the basement of the current building for additional inmate housing.
“We had a jail committee that was well known for being contentious —but the No. 1 agreement that the committee finalized was that Platte County does not at this time need a new jail,” Roper said.
The budget, adopted Jan. 20, calls for $55.6 million in operating expenses. County employees will receive a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase — half of what Robinson had suggested to amend a decade of stalled county employees’ wages.
Schieber cast the only “no” vote. In negotiations preceding the budget’s passage, Schieber had proposed a 1 percent increase, which Robinson called “insulting.”
Reached later, Robinson said the adopted raises are still inadequate.
“1.5 percent is not much more acknowledgement of the contributions these employees make to the county,” he said, calling the approved amount “somewhat insulting” still.
For an employee with a $30,000 annual salary, that’s a raise of $450 per year.
For a cost of about $400,000, a 3 percent increase would have helped close a purchasing-power gap that has widened over nearly a decade of frozen county employee wages, Robinson said.
By his office’s analysis, the county’s wages are about 10.6 percent behind cost-of-living growth even after the current cost-of-living raise.
Before the cost-of-living raises offered in the current budget, a 3 percent raise was given was offered in 2013. That adjustment broke a seven-year freeze in Platte County employees’ wages.
No tax increase in Clay County
With a $14.3 million increase in spending over the year before, the Clay County Commission approved an $87.9 million budget late last month.
Of that, more than $1 million is going to the sheriff's office for 12 new vehicles and two more full-time deputies. The dispatch center will receive $500,000 in upgrades.
The Clay County budget’s increase also directs an additional $1.73 million to parks for stalled maintenance projects.
A $27.7 million cash carryover from last year’s budget and sales tax revenue from that was projected to come in about $2.2 million over what the commissioners budgeted â€” gave the county additional funds to direct to this year’s budgeting process.
County employees will receive a 3 percent cost-of-living raise.
In a press release, Commissioner Luann Ridgeway lauded county leadership for passing a budget that required no tax increases.