Pottawatomie County commissioners have agreed to cover a nearly $26,000 gap in funding to the St. Marys Fire Department, caused by a change up at the state level for assessed utilities.

The result, which county officials say the state plans to correct in fiscal year 2023, led to a $6 million drop in valuations for properties around the Jeffrey Energy Center, in what is now the former Fire District No. 1. The county has an annual agreement with the city fire department to provide service to the rural area surrounding St. Marys.

County Clerk Dawn Henry says the county received utilities in June, which is when they noticed a problem. She says the new company handling valuations for the state took over and changed how they report those values to the state.

“Some valuation went to this district and some valuation didn’t go to the normal district. We waited for the state to give us corrections and the state said there was no corrections, so we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Valuations are typically sent to Kansas counties in June, with corrections sent out in September. Commissioner Dee McKee says she would like to see the state held accountable for the error.

“Their failure is not necessarily something I think we should quietly accept,” she said.

In addition to that $6 million valuation drop, the consolidated fire district itself, actually increased over $15 million in valuation. The agreement signed Monday allows St. Marys to maintain its $85,000 budget to cover the rural swath of the area north and west of St. Marys. Pottawatomie County Counselor John Watt says they’ve been relying on that to run their department.

“This agreement basically says you’re going to have the 4 and a half mills for the area, the old district No. 1, or that roughly $85,000, whichever is going to be more,” he said.

Pottawatomie County Fire Chief Jared Barnes says the county contracts with St. Marys to cover the former Fire District No. 1, surrounding the community. He praised the work of the city’s fire department and the great working relationship it has with the county.

“It’s an asset, not just to that area, but that whole southern and eastern part. When we were so thin on people at Emmett, we’ve got 10 on the roster now, but they still come up and were a huge help and still are a huge help,” he said.

The county won’t know if the correction is made until June, when the budgeting process for 2023 begins.

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