The Unified Government Commission on Aug. 1 passed a virtually no-increase property tax rate of 81.8 mills and an increase in fees passed on to Board of Public Utilities customers’ bills.
The $296.8 million budget had faced challenges from reduced state funding to the local government, from the loss of machinery and equipment tax, as well as from property valuation losses in recent years, according to the UG. Officials said the property values now have stabilized.
The PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) fee on BPU bills will go up from 10.9 percent to 11.9 percent. This fee is based on usage, and a typical residential user currently might pay something like $15 or $17 a month for the PILOT fee, which might mean an increase for some of about $1.50 a month.
Also going up on BPU bills is the sewer service charge with a 5 percent increase, and the trash collection fee. The trash fee for homes is increasing to $15.25 per month from its current $13.75 a month, passing along an increase from Deffenbaugh. That is a $1.50 a month increase.
The UG is anticipating additional revenues from 2015 to 2017 from the retirement of the STAR bonds and payments from Hollywood Casino, according to officials, but until then, budgeting will be “challenging.” The UG is raising fees and borrowing money from within some of its funds this year. The casino funding will increase 1 percent in 2015; the rates themselves were not increasing but the UG had received and used an advance from the casino to get it through other difficult years.
Up to $3.2 million is being borrowed from the sewer system enterprise fund for use in the city general fund.
UG Administrator Dennis Hays described the budget as taking a middle-of-the-road approach to the UG’s financial situation.
While the commission approved publication of a budget that had increased by 3 mills, that extra 3 mills was not used in the final budget that passed Aug. 1, according to UG officials. It was only approved earlier for purposes of changing some funding between departments, according to officials.
In a change at the 5:30 p.m. budget work session Aug. 1, Commissioner Hal Walker withdrew his proposal to spend $50,000 on an incentive program to retain attorneys in the district attorney’s office. The commission decided to apply the $50,000 to partial funding of an employee classification and compensation study, a project backed by Commissioner Angela Markley.
Walker said that after the Monday, July 29, budget meeting, commissioners had heard from employees who made them aware of other salary inequities that existed throughout the organization.
The employee classification and compensation study would cost about $100,000, according to UG Administrator Dennis Hays. He said that the UG last completed a study more than 10 years ago. The study could take more than six months, he said. It would not apply to the union employees.
“Once you embark on this it creates expectations,” Hays told the commission at the budget work session tonight. Employees tend to think they might get a pay raise, according to UG officials. The budget that was passed Aug. 1 does include a 2 percent raise.
Using the $50,000 to partially fund this study means it could be moved up from late 2014 to start earlier in 2014. “I think it could be done,” Hays said.
Commissioner Ann Murguia said she appreciated that the staff didn’t want to set the commission up to fail, but personally, she wanted to be held accountable, “that’s when things get done,” she said.
The UG tonight also passed a resolution showing its intent to move forward with the building of a new downtown YMCA. The UG is committing to $6 million in funding for the Y if the Y raises $6 million in a capital campaign. The funds would come from money the UG receives from Hollywood Casino, according to UG officials.
Commissioner Walker suggested putting a time limit of two years on the campaign, and the idea was adopted.
Mayor Mark Holland met with YMCA officials earlier on Aug. 1 to discuss details of the agreement.
The new budget reduces city general fund reserves by $14,000 in order to put UG Commission meetings on cable television beginning this month. For 2014, the amount budgeted to show the meetings on UGTV and for newsletters to residents is $55,000.
A new Rosedale bus route to Argentine was approved in the budget, with funding for $140,000 for the first quarter of 2014.
The budget restored $40,000 to the KSU Extension Council and 4-H programs. It will fund $100,000 for the Freedom School Summer Literacy Program and $50,000 for the Doing Real Work – Defendant Support Group from Community Development Block Grant funds.
Some of the CDBG money could go toward acquisition and demolition for an Argentine housing project and a downtown grocery store.
In addition, the Wyandotte Economic Development Council will receive $75,000 from the UG and $75,000 from the BPU to replace lost funding for a business retainment position.
The new budget also makes a $200,000 loan from the water pollution control funds to the city general fund. The judgment and liability fund also was reduced by $160,000.
The business community opposed the PILOT fee increase in a budget hearing July 29.
“The chamber has taken a position that we oppose the PILOT increase,” said Cindy Cash, Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce president. “We understand there are many hard choices and unfortunately the PILOT is one of those.
“I think that one of the suggestions that has been talked about the past several weeks is a whole classification and salary study, and that is something we need to study and figure out where we need to go,” she said.
During the past year, the UG Commission had earlier supported an effort to eliminate the PILOT, with the intention of lowering it every year.