Cowley County commissioners discussed raising taxes, both property and sales, during a budget work session Tuesday night to help pay for rising personnel costs and aging infrastructure.

County administrator Lucas Goff went over a first draft of the 2020 budget with commissioners, explaining that the highest increases have to do with health insurance, employee raises and funding for roads and bridges. 

The mill levy would go up over four mills if some adjustments aren’t made to the budget as presented, Goff said. 

The place where the budget could most likely change would be in roads and bridges, he said. 

Commission chair Bob Voegele said he thought they should leave the mill increase, which affects property taxes, at four so they would have the funding they need and not have to count on a sales tax. 

Commissioner Alan Groom said he thought an increase of about 1.75 was high enough. Commissioner Wayne Wilt said that was too low and would put the county in the same place they’ve been for years — no extra money for infrastructure and very little reserve. 

After more discussion, the commissioners agreed that Goff should adjust the budget so the rise in the mill levy would be no more than two mills. Goff said he would work as hard as he could to do that. 

Along with the budget discussion, Goff brought up the possibility of a special election for a sales tax to raise funds for the county’s infrastructure needs — not for new projects but to make repairs and updates on existing roads, bridges and facilities. 

Wilt said county commissioners for the last 10 years or more have wanted to keep the taxes flat, but that has put the county in a bind. The need for the repairs and renovations can no longer be denied, he said.

A quarter- to a half-cent sales tax vote was first suggested for the general election in November, but commissioners agreed that was not a good time for such an election, especially since Winfield and Arkansas City have so recently raised their sales taxes. 

The county sales tax vote could be held sometime in the first quarter or first half of 2020. A half cent tax over 15 years would bring in an estimated $29 million.

Goff said he will work on the budget so that the commissioners can have it by August 20.

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