Sedgwick County proposed a mill levy reduction and several cuts to its recommended 2025 budget as the county contends with soaring property valuations and a predicted funding shortfall.

Earlier this year, staff estimated the county could face a budget deficit of $4.9 million in 2025 if budget cuts didn’t take place this year. At a county commission meeting today, county manager Tom Stolz said more recent calculations showed the shortfall closer to $9 million. The imbalance resulted from employee pay raises over the past three years.

The recommended 2025 budget proposes several ways to reduce expenses and increase revenues, including a $1 million cut to arts and culture funding.

Throughout the budget season, county commissioners asked to prioritize “core county services and begin reducing areas that are deemed ‘noncore’ services,” according to the 2025 Recommended Budget.

Still, several commissioners expressed disappointment that balancing the budget would require reductions in funding to arts and culture organizations like Exploration Place and The Kansas African-American Museum.

“I’m still struggling with some of the cuts that we’re looking at,” said commissioner Sarah Lopez.

“I think what I struggle with the most is anything that we have – we’re in the middle of funding agreements that we’re already a part of. I don’t know if that’s good partnership, I don’t know if that’s a good look for us.”

Another money-saver county staff recommended was to not fund $6.3 million in requests made by county departments. County Manager Tom Stolz said many, like the election office, the Sheriff and the District Attorney, asked for more personnel and equipment that the county may not provide.

“EMS asked for ventilators, for example,” Stolz said. “So all of those things are very important. Each and every one of those asks, none of them are silly.

“Obviously I wish we had all the money in the world. I really wish we could fund those. It was very painful to make and even suggest those cuts to the commission. But we have finite resources through taxation.”

The proposed budget does add some new staffing, including 10 positions in Emergency Communications and six new employees in the fire department. It also continues to increase compensation for staff, including pay scale adjustments for the Sheriff’s office, COMCARE and the District Attorney. Overall, the budget adds $16.7 million in compensation adjustments.

The 2025 budget also has a reduced mill levy, which is one determinant of property taxes. Commissioners say they have been inundated with complaints about rising property taxes, since property values have risen dramatically in recent years.

Staff proposed cutting about one-third of a mill from the county’s budget and two-thirds from the fire district’s. One mill is the equivalent of about $100 in taxes for a $100,000 home.

“Our taxpayers are beat. They’re so frustrated with the rising cost of property taxes,” said commissioner Jim Howell. “We hear them. I don’t want to increase their tax burden in any way.”

The county also said it would not capture all of the increase in property values this year from residential properties. Residential property values increased by a median of 8% this year. Manager Tom Stolz says the county will only capture 7% of that.

Even so, Stolz said it’s likely property taxes will increase for many, simply due to the rising values of their homes.

The county commission will approve the final budget on August 21st. The county will hold a public hearing on the budget on July 31st at 6 p.m.

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