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City Council goes shopping

Council members hear report on 2019 budget

POSTED July 11, 2018 4:05 p.m.

 Great Bend Interim City Administrator George Kolb offered the City Council what he termed a “shopping list” during his 2019 budget presentation Tuesday night.

“The theme is budgeting for outcomes,” he said. He likened the administration’s recommended $26,493,050 spending package to a shopper at a grocery store. 

With a set limit, the shopper must decide what to spend it. “What services that are offered do you want to buy?” he said.

The same is the case with the city, Kolb said, adding all the administration did was suggest purchases. Referring to a slide presentation, he walked the council through the 130-plus-page budget book.

The recommended spending authority is up form $21,237,457 in 2018, but down from $31,486,306 in 2017. However, the mill rate for 2019 is down a tick to 52.073 mills from 52.183 last year (it was 48.901 in 2017).

“This year, you are very fortunate,” Kolb told the council. In addition to an additional $120,000 in motor vehicle tax collections, the city’s valuation jumped $3 million (3.4 percent) to $106,071,433.

Since a mill equals $1 in taxation for every $1,000 in valuation, this means each mill generates $30,000 more for the city, he said. A city’s valuation is based on the total assessed value of residential, commercial and ag land within the city limits.

But, the plan includes a “modest” 2 percent increase in all of the city’s sales tax categories, he said. The city also gets money as its share of the county-wide sales tax, but this was not touched.

Also, in 2019, the city will not have a debt-service payment of any kind, Kolb said. However, the line item will remain so there will be a reserve “for any surprises, as a cushion” and to cover future debts, such as the current water line replacement project.

Kolb also said city fund reserves are suggested to remain the same, along with the policies governing them. The city now actually has more in reserves than is required by those policies.

As a point of reference, property taxes make up about one quarter of the city’s revenue. Another quarter comes from the city’s share of the county sales tax and the city’s own sales taxes. 

For expenditures, police and fire make up 28 percent of the budget. Another 35 percent goes to water, parks, sewer and streets.

A shopping list

Kolb and company weren’t recommending many changes to the existing services provided by the city. “That remains pretty much status quo,” he said.

In addition, though, he suggested:

• Continuing efforts to step up the city’s information technology program, which he said is significantly out dated as is.

The plan sets aside $190,000 to improve IT infrastructure and hire a network administrator. However, filling that post has proved challenging and Kolb said if no one is found, the city may have to contract with an outside party in the interim.

This, he said, would bring the city’s data to “a safe level.”

• Adding the equivalent of one and a half maintenance workers for the Events Center. This would be in lieu of the two Public Lands employees that are now pulled way from their regular duties work on the facility.

• Increasing health insurance premiums. “This is probably the most significant,” Kolb said. 

It is projected that premiums will increase 10-15 percent in 2019. So, he recommends both the city’s and employees’ shares increase by the 15 percent.

For several years, reserves created by low insurance utilization have been tapped to keep the costs of the city’s self-funded insurance the same. That is no longer feasible.

The city picks up 83 percent of the insurance costs and the employees pay 17 percent. That will remain the same.

• Filling open positions in the Police and Fire departments. But, that is only part of the problem.

“We constantly have turnover,” he said. So, training efforts will be redoubled to offer incentives to new recruits looking to advance.

The budget also includes a deputy fire chief whose duties would primarily focus on this training.

• Revising ambulance billing fees. Currently, the council sets the rate, but he suggested changing to basing the rate on what health insurance providers are willing to pay. This market-based system is not unlike what hospitals and doctors already do.

This will generate more revenue.

• Filling the public works director position. 

• Starting to “brine” streets during the winter, coating them with a water/salt mixture prior to a storm to make snow and ice removal easier. This is a common practice.

This will cost about $50,000 for the tank and related equipment to be installed on a truck already in the city fleet.

• Looking at modifying the city’s traffic system. In light of pending improvements to Eighth and Grant streets, it may be a time to look at traffic-control issues.

Kolb mentioned going south-bound on McKinley and trying to turn left onto 10th Street. Drivers can sometimes sit through several light changes when traffic is heavy.

He recommends setting aside $150,000 per year for the next five years. That will only pay for one intersection.

• Changing the Sanitation Division (under Public Works) to Property Maintenance Enforcement Division. Kolb said this more accurately describes what the department does.

• Putting $2 million aside to convert to an automated water meter reading system. This is faster and more accurate, he said, adding it would virtually eliminate estimated bills.

• Revamping the city’s compensation plan.

In January, all employees would be brought up to the minimum of the pay range as suggested by the city’s recent compensation study. Then in February, there will be a merit increase of up to 4 percent.

The plan also includes money to address the “compression issue.” This is caused when new hires come in at a pay alevel near that of some long-time employees and has been the source of hard feelings among some veteran personnel.

Regardless, the cap would be 6 percent for increases.

• Bringing hiring up to full strength in all departments. Then, the city should implement training to bring up skill levels and make sure personnel are proficient, he said.

“That’s what’s going to lead to a high-performance organization,” he said. “Professional development ought to be one of the top priorities of this organization.”

• Implementing a five-year capital improvement program. It is included in the budget and items need to be prioritized.

Important areas to consider are quality of life (parks and recreation) infrastructure, modernizing the city. Kolb mentioned the Sports Complex and potential improvements such as artificial turf or the addition of playing fields for other sports, and the addition of bathroom facilities and the road connecting the complex and Railroad Avenue.

• Setting an economic development strategy. Kolb said the Chamber of Commerce requested $50,000, but he is reluctant to fund that and that the city isn’t ready to make that commitment yet. 

Questions

Following Kolb’s presentation, council members asked questions about the budget proposal. 

There was a lot of discussion about employee compensation, especially in regard to the Fire and Police departments. Many on the council see the compression issue as a major problem.

Talk centered around whether or not the city could solve pay concerns in one budget year or would it take multiple years. 

The timing of the automated meter reading also drew conversation, as did the funding of outside agencies and the Sports Complex. 

But, Kolb said, these details are for another day. He reiterated that the money for the projects suggested was in the budget.

After the budget’s final approval, it would be up to the council to divvy up the funds as it sees fit. “How much do you want to purchase?” he said

Some tweaks were made to the proposal.

• The Great Bend Library was given less than suggested. But, the total will cover the cost of state grants lost due to the decreased funding.

• Instead of giving the Barton County Fair $10,000, it will get $8,000, the same as it got last year. The extra $2,000 will go to the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association which manages the drag strip facility.

• The $50,000 earmarked for the Chamber of Commerce was removed.

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