Council OKs publication of 2011 budget with 2.088 mill levy increase
The public hearing on the city's 2011 budget was two weeks in the future, but Tonganoxie City Council members got more than a sample Monday of what residents think of the document.
About 50 residents found seats Monday in the council meeting room and a handful were forced to stand outside. A number of those attending expressed their disapproval of the proposed budget and specifically its 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for all city employees and the longevity pay raise for qualifying employees.
The council nonetheless approved publication of the $7.02 million 2011 budget that would raise the mill levy from its 2010 level of 35.014 to 37.102 mills, which is an increase of 2.088 mills.
A mill equals one dollar of revenue for the city for every $1,000 of assess valuation. At the published mill levy, the city's share of taxes on a $150,000 home would be $640. The 2.088 mill increase would mean $36 in additional taxes on a home of the same value.
The published budget’s mill levy increase was less than the 3.5 mill levy hike the council agreed to July 19. City Administrator Mike Yanez said the further reduction was accomplished by refinement of department budgets and the use of the city's share of county sales tax receipts for debt reduction.
Still, resident Charlie Conrad questioned the pay raises in the budget, noting that most other cities and counties had wage freezes or were laying off workers.
Patty Bitler said it was unrealistic to raise taxes in the recession. She said there was creative ways to address the recession's budget crunch.
Councilwoman Paula Crook supported their position, but her motion to eliminate the pay raises and end funding for the answering service failed to earn a second.
In defending the budget, Councilman Jason Ward said departments would receive the same level of funding as they did three years ago.
The city's salary structure was considerably lower than other cities, which meant it regularly lost police officers and firefighters after paying for their expensive training, Ward said.
The 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase was less than the 2.8 increase to the cost-of-living index, Ward said.
"Those are some of the things we had to look at as a council," he said. "We don't like to raise taxes and didn't raise taxes for 10 years."
With its publication this week in The Mirror, the council will have a public hearing on the 2011 budget at 7 p.m. Aug. 9.
Noting attendance at Monday's meeting, Velda Roberts suggested the council move the budget hearing to another site.
Assistant City Clerk Kathy Bard said Tuesday no arrangements could be made before the newspaper's deadline to publish the budget but she was still investigating alternatives.
In other action, the council:
• Approved an new hiring policy for city department heads. The policy allows the council to appoint a committee to review applications and interview candidates before making recommendations of three to five candidates to the council.
The mayor and the council would vote for the department head.
The policy is contingent on the passage of a charter ordinance the council approved in June, changing the method the city selects police chiefs and city clerks. The protest period for that ordinance ends Aug. 23.
• Approved a bid from Arbor Master not to exceed $6,680 to remove a cottonwood tree south of the bridge on Pleasant Street.
• Awarded a bid to Bingham Landscaping for a parking lot expansion and sidewalk extension for the Tonganoxie Recreation Commission in an amount not to exceed $29,932.