• County budget to be tighter in 2013

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  • Jackson County legislators are working their way through a tighter 2013 budget, one based on lower revenues despite a slowly expanding economy.
    “Every year we’ve asked you to do more with less,” Legislator Greg Grounds, R-Blue Springs and chair of the Legislature’s budget committee, said to County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, echoing a comment that came up again and again during several hours of hearings Monday.
    County Executive Mike Sanders has proposed a $300.82 million budget for 2013, compared with $309.41 million for 2012. Sanders and legislators have said they will not raise taxes.
    The headwinds come from three main sources: Property value assessments are expected to fall 2.8 percent, the state has cut millions in funding for areas such as the assessor’s and prosecutor’s offices, and the state Supreme Court this year nullified a sales tax on cars and boats, costing the county $1.8 million a year. A bill to reinstate that tax was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon over the summer. The county has already let go about three dozen people in the assessor’s and prosecutor’s offices.
    Walking through the budget department by department yielded a few things residents can look forward to in the year ahead:
    • A 2.4-mile extension to of the Little Blue Trace Trail, the popular hiking and biking trail that runs along the Little Blue River from Blue Mills Road south and then southeast to Lee’s Summit Road. The extension would run south, and the work includes adding two trailheads. The county and Kansas City are each paying $500,000, and the work should be done in 2013.
    • Officials keep working on plans for the renovation of the Truman Courthouse on the Independence Square. Legislators have a $4.8 million contract for that on their agenda and could take it up as early as today. The work is to be done sometime next summer.
    • Maintenance work on the Stone Arch Bridge on the western edge of Independence. It’s the high bridge that carries Blue Ridge Boulevard over Truman Road.
    Legislators continue budget discussion at 10 a.m. today in their chambers on the second floor of the downtown Courthouse, 415 E. 12th St., Kansas City. Grounds said they expect to pass the budget next Monday.
    The hearings also give legislators a chance to bring up other issues with department heads, some big and some not so big.
    A seemingly not-so-big one: Grounds said residents have asked if anything can be done about the one-lane Fort Osage bridge, which goes over the BNSF tracks in Sibley. Answer: It’s not the county’s bridge. The railroad owns it and contends that it’s in fine shape. A second lane would probably mean a second bridge – and a high pricetag.
    A bigger one: Why does the Kansas City Election Board have expenses of $11 per active voter, while the Jackson County Election Board (which runs elections outside Kansas City) has a cost of just $7.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Do we have too many employees?” Legislative Chairman Dan Tarwater asked of KC Election Board officials. Other legislators said long lines at polling places and the tardiness of posting election results are frustrating. Altogether, they grilled Kansas City Election Board officials for close to half an hour, well past the 10 minutes set aside for each departmental presentation. (The Jackson County Election Board give-and-take took about five minutes and mostly focused on officials’ concerns about aging voting machines.)
    Legislator Bob Spence, R-Lee’s Summit, suggested that Kansas City officials consult with election officials in Johnson County and see how things could be run more smoothly.
    “Every year we go through this. ...” he said. “I know you get tired of the questions. We get tired of nothing changing.”

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