Following a three-and-a-half-hour work session Monday night, the Great Bend City Council approved publishing the city’s budget for 2018. The public budget hearing is set for 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21, prior to the council’s regular meeting in the council chambers at City Hall.
The nearly $27 million spending package is based on a mill levy of 52.05, up 3.55 mills from 2017. A mill is equal to one tax dollar levied for every $1,000 in property valuation.
The budget initially put before the council was for $25.8 million at a mill rate of 50.55, up from 48.5 in 2017. This was a dollar difference of $308,000, or 1.208 percent.
In addition to a 4 percent across-the-board pay raise for city employees, various infrastructure projects and other improvements, the preliminary budget included the addition of one new police officer and one new firefighter. However, as the session ended and before the budget was approved, council members decided to add three police officers and two firefighters.
This change added 1.5 mills to the plan. Since one mill is roughly equal to $100,000 for the city, this added $150,000 to the total.
“A budget is a lengthy process,” City Administrator Howard Partington said. It starts with department heads turning their requests into City Clerk Shawna Schafer, who in turn, visits with Partington.
They then meet one-on-one with each official.
“There’s some cutting done in that. Each department head knows there are other department heads and other parts of the city,” Partington said, adding they make adjustments based on the needs of the others.
The council also tours city facilities, meets with outside agencies that receive funding and holds a goal-planning session. All of this led to Monday night, and the budget is a balance of departmental needs and council goals.
During the meeting Monday, Partington and Schafer walked the council through highlights of the city’s 1,100-plus-line budget. Department heads were also present to state their cases and field questions.
A lot of pieces
Partington said the city draws revenue from a host of sources. For, 2018, one quarter of the money comes from property taxes and a shade under another quarter comes from sales taxes, with the rest from sewer and water charges, fines and other places.
As for the sales tax, 10 percent is the city’s portion of the county-wide sales tax. There is also a city half-cent sales tax (generating $800,000 or 9 percent of the city’s revenue) that is divided among economic development, infrastructure improvements and property tax relief, and a quarter-cent city sales tax (generating $500,000 or 4 percent of the revenue) dedicated to street repairs.
Also, this fall, a 15 percent water rate increase will be implemented with revenues estimated at close to $2 million in 2018. The council has approved a $6 million bond issue for a massive, multi-year waterline upgrade.
Looking at the expenditures, the largest slice of the pie goes to the Police Department at 14 percent, followed by the Fire Department at 12 percent and water and sewer services at 10 percent, parks at 9 percent and streets at 7 percent.
Also included in this picture is the city’s debt, Partington said. As of the end of 2017, Great Bend’s outstanding general obligation bond debt was $9,743,209, and by the end of 2018, that will be $8,130,000.
Within two years, two of these bonds will be paid off, he said. “I don’t think there is a city out there that wouldn’t want to trade their debt for ours.”
In the budget
In the mix for 2018 are the increases for the Police and Fire departments, city-wide pay raises, improvements to 10th Street and other street work, Brit Spaugh Zoo upgrades (the improved grizzly bear exhibit and the new bison exhibit) and a new police building.
However, there are a number of “off-budget” projects. Among these are repairs to the hike and bike path, the bathrooms and HVAC at the Crest Theater, Veterans Memorial Park ball field lighting repairs, slide repairs at the Wetlands Aquatic Park and many more. Partington said these would add up to millions of dollars if they were all done, so the council will have to prioritize them as the year progresses.
In calculating the budget, officials wanted to meet as many requests and needs as possible within the general fund through balancing spending and revenue. But, Partington said he advised against tapping the city’s reserves unless needed
A lot of the budget is based around goals set by council members when they met this past spring. These fell into four categories: Continue strong economic and community development efforts; continue to improve image and attitude; budget and financial management; and miscellaneous (including such items as rerouting traffic of 10th Street, raises, filling vacancies and combating the drug problem).
In her remarks, Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President Jan Peters said Great Bend is a three-legged economic stool based on agriculture, livestock and oil/gas. However, in recent years, all three have taken a hit, and this has had an impact on the budget-planning process.
She discussed the economic development aspects of the goals. “We try to diversify,” she said.
Citing projects both big (the transload facility) and small (small businesses such as Bling), Peters said the city has seen $168 million in new capital investment over the past decade, creating 1,281 jobs.
Community Development Director Christina Hays, who also oversees the Convention and Visitors Bureau, reviewed the improvement in the number of conventions and tours looking at Great Bend, the impact of ball tournaments at the Sports Complex, and the successes of festivals like June Jaunt, Summer Street Stroll, Zoo Boo, Explore Great Bend, Party in the Park and Home for the Holidays.
Also, coming in September 2018 is the Airfest, which takes place every three years.
All of these activities, she said, promote businesses, bolster the city’s image and offer activities for residents and visitors.