Archive for Wednesday, August 19, 2009

City, county make final budget cuts

A World War I doughboy statue stands outside the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

A World War I doughboy statue stands outside the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

August 19, 2009

They’ve gone through the books, they’ve made some cuts, they’ve listened to the public and on Monday city and county officials rolled up their sleeves one more time to make cuts before approving their 2010 budgets.

In the end of July, the Leavenworth County Commissioners proposed a 1-mill increase to the 2010 budget. The reason for the increase comes from the need to relocate the county's EMS headquarters.

A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.

Commissioners chose not to put the proposed $1.5 million EMS headquarters project to a bond, but instead opted to pay for part of the project with money from the $569,000 raised with the 1 mill increase and in part from the available $2.2 million in the county’s capital improvement fund.

But when it came time to vote, two commissioners did not go for the increase.

“I do not support the 1 mill increase,” Commissioner Clyde Graeber said before making a motion to reduce the mill increase. “I think it’s higher than it needs to be.”

Graeber wanted to take more money out of the capital improvement fund to offset the mill increase.

Commissioner J.C. Tellefson seconded Graeber’s motion to cut the mill increase and the two voted in favor to accept the 2010 budget with the reduced increase. Commissioner John Flower voted against the reduction stating his concern that, by not having the extra $284,500 cushion from the extra half mill increase, the county would be decreasing the capital improvement fund too much.

“Essentially, if there is another major capital improvement project the commissioners want to take on, you are in the position where you will need to bond it,” County Administrator Heather Morgan told the commissioners.

The new tax levy for 2010 will be 32.06 mills.

The new tax increase will be an extra $8.63 in property taxes for a $150,000 home.

During the public budget hearing, county residents discussed things such as the 2 percent cost of living adjustment for county employees and the cut of $71,250 to historical groups in the county.

Marguerite Strange, with the Leavenworth Historical Museum Association, understood the county’s need to keep taxes low, but implored the commissioners to help the association if possible.

“We are working very hard to try to keep our mortgages paid,” Strange said. “We thought if there was any place you could find something to give us we would appreciate the help. We have the volunteers, but we don’t have the money to keep up the materials for our old museums.”

Commissioners agreed if there were any major emergencies in 2010 the county would find money to help the museums.

Tonganoxie city budget

In Tonganoxie, city council members were looking at a 2.4 mill increase.

After a lengthy discussion about merit raises for city employees and another line-by-line look at the budget, the council unanimously voted to cut Danny Dodge's full-time building inspector position in favor of having that work contracted out. By eliminating the position the city was able to cut $39,350 from the budget, reducing the mill increase to 1.38 mills. The total mill levy for the city will be 35.018 mills.

The mill increase means about a $23.80 increase to the property taxes of a $150,000 home.

Councilmember Burdel Welsh wasn’t in favor of cutting the budget any more and risk city departments from not having enough money to operate in 2010 and then risk the possibility of having an even higher tax hike in 2011.

“This has been a long process,” Welsh said. “There has been a lot of meetings, there have been a lot of cuts and we are now below 2009 numbers. We are back below numbers that were created in 2008 and we’re asking them to go to December 2010. We need to go through this small increase so we don’t have a terrible increase in 2011 and we really need to work on saving money in our daily operations.”

During the public hearing, several city residents came up to speak to the council and offered suggestions on ways to cut the budget, including eliminating the pay increase for city employees that is scheduled for 2010, keeping city vehicles parked at the city shop instead of being taken home by employees, or possibly reducing the city’s workforce. Other suggestions came from the council members including hiring a full-time city engineer to eliminate contract work going to BG Consultants, the city’s engineering firm, possible four-day workweeks or putting a freeze on longevity bonuses for 2010.

No motions were made to freeze salary increases or longevity bonuses for city employees, but on Tuesday city officials ended the practice of most public works employees taking home vehicles with the exception of Butch Rodgers, city superintendent, and whoever is on call for weekend emergencies.

School Budget

Things went a little bit differently at the Tonganoxie School Board meeting.

The board approved its 2009-10 at Monday’s regular meeting at the Tonganoxie High School library in the THS west campus building.

The board opened its meeting with a budget hearing and patrons had an hour from that point to present questions, comments and concerns to the board about the budget.

However, no one approached the board during that time and the budget, which calls for about a two-mill increase from the previous year, was unanimously approved, 7-0, later in the meeting.

The 2.08 mill increase to 54.78 mills was the result of factors such as the loss in state aid for occupying a new building, which was $600,000 annually the past two years for Tonganoxie Middle School, and a reduction in state aid per pupil, $4,433 to $4,218.

The mill increase equals about a $35.88 increase in taxes on a $150,000 home.

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