Local News

Officials work to finalize city budget

Date: 7/15/2010

Posted by City of Garden City (electric/water/sewer) on 7/26/2010

The Garden City Telegram

July 15, 2010
Section: Local News

City looks to limit mill levy increase

   Shajia Ahmad



Garden City commissioners have agreed not to raise the city's 2011 mill levy more than one mill as they move toward finalizing next year's budget.


City officials plan to publish the new mill levy at 38.85, which would generate just more than $5.96 million in revenue. Commissioners could take steps to reduce the property tax rate prior to an Aug. 3 public hearing, after which commissioners will approve a final 2011 budget.


Property tax represents about 8 percent of the city's total budget, which is being proposed at $74 million in 2010. City services and programs also are funded by sales tax revenue, utility revenue and other city licensing and permitting feeds.


The city's finance director, Melinda Hitz, told commissioners Wednesday they would need to cut nearly $495,000 in order to maintain last year's mill levy of 37.85.


One mill is equal to one dollar per $1,000 dollars of assessed value. The city's assessed valuation increased from $149.5 million in 2009 to $153.5 million this year, a 3.3 percent increase.


City officials, however, were anticipating higher valuation numbers, Hitz said, and commissioners signaled their intentions Wednesday to make significant cuts in the budget to hold the mill levy steady.


Commissioners agreed Wednesday to slash nearly $330,000 in office and other equipment purchases from various city departmental 2011 budget requests to close the budget gap, an initiative spearheaded by Commissioner Reynaldo Mesa and approved unanimously by the other commissioners. Commissioners hope to close the remaining $153,500 budget gap -- about the value of one mill -- to hold the 2010 city's mill levy steady.


"In the years I've been on the commission, we've never gone a full year with freezing purchases, but this year we might have to do that to see if it amounts to anything," Mesa said before the commission finalized its decision, and not without acknowledging that the move would make some unhappy. "If we can get by with what we're already using, then we need to do that."


Some of the larger equipment cuts include $65,000 from Lee Richardson Zoo for a large mower and equipment for a planned tortoise building; $20,000 from the fire department for a tanker truck; $10,000 in computer replacements for the police department; and about $27,000 from the cemetery for a water main extension. The large budget reduction in equipment purchases also included $6,000 allocated for replacement of laptop computers for city commissioners.


Hitz said Wednesday that city department heads already had been working for months on cutting back and prioritizing the items on next year's budget requests, budgets that were already skeletal in nature. She said that the same equipment purchase requests were likely to show up again in 2012, so the expenditures were merely being delayed rather than expunged.


City commissioners also signalled their intent Wednesday to hold flat the city's share of funding for the Finney County Economic Development Corp. in 2011.


The publicly-funded group that works to recruit and retain businesses in the area made a mid-June request to both Garden City and Finney County officials to increase its 2011 funding by the value of one mill from both parties: about $153,500 more from the city and $465,000 more from the county.


FCEDC is receiving $89,000 from the city and $125,000 from the county this year, and has plans to create a reserve fund for business incentive grants, recruitment fees, industrial site development, workforce training and retention, and other incentives with the additional funding.


On Monday, county commissioners considered increasing FCEDC's funding by a quarter of a mill -- about $115,000 -- in addition to the $118,000 it will more than likely receive from the county for its operating expenses in 2011, because county commissioners said they felt it was important to begin building that fund.


City commissioners said Wednesday they would more than likely not consider FCEDC's new funding request and continue exploring alternative options, such as bringing the funding issue back to a ballot vote: In both November 2005 and April 2007, county voters rejected quarter-cent sales-tax proposals that officials estimated would have raised $1.2 million to $1.4 million annually for economic development.


Cathy McKinley, chairwoman of the FCEDC board of directors who was present Wednesday, said that holding the corporation's funding from the city flat would leave the group's business recruiting and retention strategies "at a level that isn't effective."


FCEDC's two other funding partners are Holcomb, which allocated $11,000 in 2010, and Garden City Community College, which allocated $11,500 this year. FCEDC did not make increased funding requests from Holcomb or GCCC.


Commissioners also planned Wednesday to explore removing about $50,000 in salary and benefits expenditures for city employees, to further close the budget gap and hold the mill levy steady, an idea vehemently opposed by Commissioner John Doll.


"Before we take anything down on our employees, we need to screw down everything else," Doll said. "Even a 1 percent increase in pay or benefits isn't a raise -- it's just keeping things flat (because of cost-of-living increases)."


The reductions city commissioners have asked city staff to explore would not reduce employee salaries but more than likely reduce raises for performance and other benefits, according to Hitz.


The August public hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. during a regular city commission meeting.


In other business, the commission also discussed or took the following action:


* Commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to the city's sign and banner policies, allowing more banner signs to be considered permanent signage.


City commissioners agreed to amending recently-adopted city signage rules that limit the number of temporary signs businesses can display, based on complaints from area business that the new rules weren't flexible enough, according to Planning and Community Development Director Kaleb Kentner.


Now, banner signs may be considered permanent signage not only if they are affixed to the side of a building with a wooden or metal frame but also with eyelets with a diameter no larger than 1.5 inches. Eyelets allow the business owner to change out the signs, Kentner said.


One free-standing banner sign also is permitted per property and is considered permanent if it's placed in a wooden or metal frame permanently affixed to the ground. However, no banners less than 32 square feet in area are considered permanent, Kentner said.


* Commissioners unanimously approved Lisa Barrie to the Garden City Housing authority, a city advisory board.


The city commission meets again at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the City Administrative Center, 301 N. Eighth St.

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