Riley County Commissioners Ron Wells, left, Marvin Rodriguez and Ben Wilson. (Staff photo by Brady Bauman)

Riley County commissioners past and present haven’t held back their disdain for Topeka. But Thursday morning, commission chairman Ron Wells went further than that during discussion concerning steps the board approved to further explore plans to replace the county’s aged emergency radio system.

Commissioners learned a new system could come with a $9.9 million price tag. The decades-old system county emergency personnel and police officers use fails in many spots throughout the county.

“Instead of trying to withhold funds (from the state),” Wells said. “Go ahead and file a suit against the state of Kansas to quit taking the money that belongs to us.

“That would go a long ways to paying for some of this.”

Wells, a Republican, said the state continues to fail in distributing funds to counties and cities that it is statutorily-required to do. In past meetings, Wells has referenced an article published in the Kansas Government Journal from December 2016 that broke down those declines from Topeka. The Kansas Government Journal is a monthly publication produced by The League of Kansas Municipalities and has been in print since 1914.

According to the article, cities and counties in Kansas have lost at least $2.2 billion in those transfers since 1997 as a result of the legislature’s decision to not fund them. Examples of the transfers include the Local Ad Valorem Property Tax Reduction Fund, the County City Revenue Sharing fund and the Special City-County Highway Fund.

In 1997, cities and counties lost $1.7 million in LAVTRF funds when the state doled out $46.9 million in aid to local governments instead of the $48.6 million required by state statute. The state met its requirement in 1999 and 2000, but by 2003, the state was short $36 million of its statutory requirement. It was also the last year cities and counties received any money out of the fund. For 2016, the state was required by statute to allot $96.5 million out of the fund created for the sole purpose of keeping local property taxes low for cities and counties.

In the County City Revenue Sharing fund, where it is supposed to transfer 2.823 percent of state sales and use taxes to cities and counties, allocations stopped in 2004. Cities and counties across the state were due for $75 million in 2016.

In the Special City-County Highway Fund, the state stopped those payments in 2009. At least $22 million was due to local governments for 2016, but that number is an estimate, according to the publication, citing that the Kansas Department of Transportation quit calculating this number and that it “represents a conservative estimate of the amount that should have been transferred.”

Wells has estimated that the state owes Riley County at least $30 million from 2002 through 2014.

“Now is the time to start pushing back,” Wells said. “So I’m going to start getting a little more vocal and talk to the other counties — see how many I can get on board — but I think that with the Kansas Association of Counties, if we would file suit against the state, because they’re trying to work their budget, they may as well give us back the money that belongs to us.”

Commissioners Ben Wilson and Marvin Rodriguez, also Republicans, shared Wells’ sentiments, but were silent when it came to comments about a suit.

“Good luck,” said county clerk Rich Vargo.

Wells said his frustrations stem from the blame he says he receives as a commissioner when it comes to the county’s mill levy, which increased .767 mills from 2016’s budget.

A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value.

“I use the word stolen, because that’s what it is and you call it sweeping,” Wells said of the depleted state funds, “but right now, I’m getting to the point — what are they going to do, fire me? But I’m going to talk to the other counties and start pushing back.

“It’s time we stand up for ourselves.”

 

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Source: KMAN Local News