eeks may have passed since Platte County officeholders heard an initial announcement that staff cuts must be made to balance the 2006 budget, but it became evident that opinions have not swayed and wounds have not healed during that time.
In the public budget hearing held Tuesday morning at the administration building, the county commission opened this year’s budget to scrutiny from officeholders over their decisions.
Sheriff Richard Anderson was the first to step up to the microphone to assert his difference in opinion from the commissioners’.
“I think the budget that is being proposed and is probably on the edge of being adopted, signifies a setback in law enforcement to Platte County,” said Anderson.
Anderson, who submitted a few recommendations to the commission, told them even if some of those were chosen to be implemented it would not solve the problem that he says has been set into motion by the commissioners’ actions.
“The budget still would have serious shortages to law enforcement,” stated Anderson. “It goes back to the same situation as 2004. The number of arrests will go down, the number of drunk drivers arrested will go down and the (vehicle) fleet will continue to age.”
Knight questioned Anderson on how staff that was terminated from specific areas in the sheriff’s department, including three administrative, two detention center positions and two security center personnel, would affect arrest numbers.
“We specifically cut those support positions so we would continue to keep Platte County safe,” stated Knight.
Anderson said that the “snapshot” the commission took of his department’s staff prior to making cuts may not have been the best way to allocate resources.
The sheriff said that while those individuals may have been at those posts during that time of the “snapshot,” his office moves people around in the department continuously.
Second District Commissioner Jim Plunkett issued a challenge to Anderson.
“You come to us and say it’s our fault that you won’t be able to put criminals behind bars, so I guess my challenge to you is help us by finding a way to increase revenue in your department and getting that jail fund back up,” said Plunkett.
Anderson indicated that he would like to increase the amount of revenue that is generated by his department, but said that opportunity is slipping away.
The INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service), who has chosen to hold illegal residents at various detention centers in the past is now choosing to release the illegals on their own recognizance and allow them to appear in a court at a later date. That decision by INS has taken away one of Anderson’s revenue sources received by his department.
Treasurer Bonnie Brown accepted her last chance to voice her strong displeasure in what she says was a “political move” by the commissioners to further their own “political agenda.”
“I believe the decision you made was insensitive to the employees who served this county. We have an excellent work force and they shouldn’t be required to carry the brunt of a political agenda,” stated Brown.
For the last two weeks Brown has indicated that this commission’s decision has revolved around a political agenda.
After former commissioners Michael Short, Steve Wegner and Knight reduced the levy to four cents in 2004, the new administration of Pryor, Plunkett and Knight was forced to deal with the result of that reduction.
Plunkett responded, “You criticize us for not raising the tax levy last year, so my question to you is, did you not see it coming in 2004?”
“No I didn’t,” said Brown. “I believe the tax levy is under your control and is there for you to use to operate the county.”
Knight defended her and former colleagues Short, Wegner and Diza Eskridge’s decision in the past to reduce the levy.
“Michael Short, Steve Wegner, Diza Eskridge and I promised the people a reduction in their levy when we passed the sales taxes. When we ask people to pay more taxes for dedicated things like the parks and roads tax, I think we should give back in property taxes because they have been very generous in increased sales taxes for the county,” said Knight. “So, I would never apologize for lowering people’s taxes.”
Brown also reiterated that none of the commissioners asked for her input in developing this year’s budget.
“To say we haven’t talked to people and aren’t having a budget crunch is just wrong,” said Knight.
“Did you consult me, Betty?” questioned Brown.
“I don’t feel we have to, Bonnie,” responded Knight.
Platte City resident Ed Chomicki took the opposite stance of many county officeholders and thanked the commissioners for not raising the levy.
“I commend you for holding the line and not raising taxes,” said Chomicki.
County Clerk Sandy Krohne was the final speaker at the public hearing with a message to the commissioners.
During Krohne’s address to the commissioners, she said if officeholders would have been told earlier rather than later about the budget crunch, there may have been a way around the issue of slashing county employees jobs.
Krohne stated if input from the officeholders would have been requested at an earlier date, “it would have given us all an opportunity to look at what could be done to avoid losing much needed staff members who worked hard on a daily basis to help get our statutorily required jobs done.
“Since my 2005 budget was pretty much zeroed out by this commission, I didn’t have much to give up, but would have gladly done what I could. I’m sure that other officeholders would have done the same. There was a comment made by one of the commissioners that ‘nobody wanted to be a team player.’ How can you expect us to be team players when you didn’t even invite us in the game?”
Krohne also agreed with Anderson and Brown that the commissioners could have chosen to raise taxes to fund this year’s budget.
“This is not a poor county. I am not an advocate of higher taxes, but in 2004, the previous county commission lowered the property tax levy from 10 cents to 4 cents, a decision that was criticized by the two new commissioners, making it difficult at best for this commission to come in and make ends meet in the 2005 budget. But we did, and without losing staff members at that,” said Krohne.
“I believe if you had been honest with the public about how that was done, and the affect it would have on the services that the citizens of this county deserve, I believe this commission could have brought the levy back up by 1 or 2 cents to prevent the loss of employees.”
While commissioners are aware of officeholders’ feelings, Knight said her office is the one that must live with the budget that is being adopted.
“When it comes down to it, we are the three that have to figure out what works in this budget,” said Knight.
The final budget figures approved by the commission on Tuesday for the 2006 general fund is $17.4 million. That budget has increased from the 2005 general fund budget of $16.7 million.