On Thursday afternoon, more than 80 attendees gathered to hear from county and city leaders as they discussed subjects not only near and dear to their hearts, but also to the roles they serve.

On Thursday afternoon, more than 80 attendees gathered to hear from county and city leaders as they discussed subjects not only near and dear to their hearts, but also to the roles they serve.

At the Shawnee Forward luncheon labeled the State of the Governments, local officials Melissa Dennis, Pottawatomie County commissioner for District 1; Shawnee City Manager Chance Allison and Shawnee Mayor Richard Finley joined community residents at Gordon Cooper Technology Center (GCTC) to talk about the roles they play and how they navigate them.

Pottawatomie County Commissioner

Dennis, a longtime county commissioner, explained how the county splits up and uses what limited funding it receives.

“People probably think the county has a lot of money; we don't,” she said. “Without the 1-cent sales tax the county, as I know it, would be in a lot of hurt.”

Pottawatomie County received a budget of $5.6 million in ad valorem taxes, and with it, issues funds to multiple agencies and groups.

The bulk of the funding — 63 percent — goes to schools, she said, and the rest is doled out to a handful of others — the vo-tech gets 16 percent; the county receives 11 percent; the library's portion is 7 percent; and the health department is given 3 percent.

The assessed value this year was $404 million, she said, meaning the county's part came out to $5.6 million.

“With that, we give to the sheriff, the county clerk, the assessor, the treasurer, the court clerk,” Dennis said. “We give them their money to operate their budget.”

County commissioners and the highway department do not operate their budget off the ad valorem.

“We operate ours off the county sales tax,” she said. “We actually use the county sales tax to put rock, asphalt and tin horns in front of your property and on the roads.”

She said salaries for the highway are paid for through the diesel tax, car tags and the gross production tax.

“We're collecting double (in the county sales tax) what our county budget is,” she said. “I know people don't want to see their assessed values go up, and we can't raise you assessed values more than 3 percent every year, but as valorem taxes is what our county operates on.”

Ad valorem taxes run the courthouse, not the sales tax, she said.

“We don't have a very big budget in Pottawatomie County,” Dennis said.

She said the 1-cent sales tax collections are distributed so that the highways get most — around 60 percent; the safety center gets about 25 percent; fire departments receive 5 percent; emergency services get about 4 percent; economic development receives 3 percent; OSU gets 4.5 percent; soil conservation receives 1.5 percent; and the senior centers get about 2 percent.

Roads are a costly part of the county's operation.

“Graveling one mile of road costs me $33,000,” Dennis said. “That's the rock and hauling it here.”

People sometimes don't realize that, she said.

The district has 1,200 miles of gravel and paved roads to maintain.

Shawnee City Manager

Allison, relatively new to the position, was first the finance director last year. Soon after he stepped into that role he discovered the city didn't have much funding to operate with, he said. Corrections needed to be made.

A majority of the city's $7 million budget is used for payroll, he said. Too much was being spent on salaries.

“Our sales tax is our predominate funding source,” he said. “Operational and capital funding have to be spent a certain way; to be strategic, we have to ensure we spend our funding appropriately.”

Savings had been declining by about $3 million a year, he said.

“So we had about $1 million remaining,” he said.

The findings were that for about the last 10 years the city was increasing personnel, he said.

“We increased by about 75 the number of employees in that 10 years,” Allison said.

In conjunction with that, he said actual sales tax collections were falling much shorter than the ever-increasing budget figures.

“When you budget those revenues, you appropriate those dollars,” he said.

With the estimated budget continually being higher than actual collections, Allison said eventually overspending was bound to happen over time.

“Fortunately the city had savings to offset it,” he said.

The practice wasn't sustainable, he said; some changes had to be made in policies and management.

Personnel had grown to about 96 percent of the general fund balance of revenue, he said, “we realized we were top-heavy.”

So the option of incentivized retirement was initiated; over 20 people retired, he said.

“That turned out to be about $2.5 million in savings to our general fund,” he said. “That really shored up the general fund so we could operate on a balanced budget moving forward.”

He said after the city reined in the estimated revenue budget, whittled down the number of city employees, and consolidated and reorganized departments and positions, the city budget is now in a healthy place.

Shawnee Mayor

Finley took just a few minutes to share how important a task he believes it is for Shawnee to educate and train its students well, to provide an excellent workforce.

“If we can't do that, we're wasting our time,” he said.

Growing the community won't matter if young families decide they are better off going somewhere else.

“We support education,” he said. “And we need to hold them to it.”

Also, Finley said he is thrilled to see the process of the first large housing project planting itself north of Interstate 40.

“We really need to push growth,” he said, adding that north is one feasible way to go.

“We can't go south because of the river,” he said.

And coming from the east, in Oklahoma City, ODOT is gearing up to widen the interstate to six lanes, he said, all the way to one of Shawnee's exits.

“They anticipate growth from us; we need to be prepared,” he said. “We have to grow out to the county line; I don't want to see growth stop at our county line (from the other end).”