County makes headway on budget but big questions linger.

With the goal of keeping the mill levy flat despite losses in assessed property valuations and other forms of revenue, the Ford County Commission began a work session Tuesday afternoon looking into a $1.7 million void.

By the end of the session, the distance between what departments wanted and what they can get had been reduced to $406,000, but many of the most difficult decisions remain for a meeting Thursday as Commissioner Shawn Tasset was handling concerns on his farm and could not attend.

The county’s assessed valuation, essentially the amount of property that can be taxed, took a $10 million dip from last year’s $289 million. Additionally, payments to the oil and gas depletion trust fund were reduced and revenue from the mortgage registration fee took a $100,000 loss following a bill passed this legislative session aimed at reducing the tax and making the tax fairer.

Each mill represents $278,737 of revenue in 2015 and to match 2014 spending would require a 3.1 mill rate increase.

The major issues to be discussed Thursday include the budget for the sheriff’s, road and bridge, rural fire and county attorney’s departments. Also on the docket is whether or not the Commission will shift the investigation unit funding from the sheriff to the county attorney.

At the end of the work session Thursday, the Commission could have a document that can be placed before voters in preparation for a final vote, County Administrator Ed Elam said.

Dodge City had hoped Ford County would contribute approximately $44,000 to the upcoming fixed-route bus service, but with no service outside of Dodge City except a twice-daily stop in Fort Dodge, the contribution was among the first to be cut.

The figures also didn’t account for $300,000 granted through the “Why Not Dodge?” sales tax for the expo center, giving the two present commissioners some relief but also trepidation about the future of that money.

By reducing the funding of the county’s health plan from “maximum” to “expected,” the county also shaved between $200,000 and $250,000 from the deficit.

The most potentially controversial decisions will likely come Thursday starting at 1:30 p.m. in the Ford County Government Center when the Commission will decide the fate of the sheriff’s budget. The sheriff’s two budgets, including the jail, have doubled since 2004.

The Commission will also decide whether or not to approve a significant stepped raise for the elected county prosecutor which would have the goal of mitigating turnover in the position as district judge positions, and their salaries, open. Judges Daniel Love and Leigh Hood were both prosecutors before moving to the bench, County Attorney Natalie Randall said at a previous meeting.

The commission will also need to determine how, or if, it will fund the numerous non-profit organizations that look to the county government for assistance.