Following a two-hour work session Monday night to discuss the City of Great Bend’s 2023 budget, the Great Bend City Council gave a tacit approval to the proposed $30,357,000 spending package.
“In addition to the team’s normal, day-to-day maintenance, upkeep and providing safety and welfare to the public, this budget continues to reflect the priorities outlined in the three-year strategic plan and fully funds all recommended programs,” City Administrator Kendal Francis said.
However, this is only the first step.
The budget ($30,238,000 from property taxes, with the balance from end-of-2022 cash transfers) is supported by a mill rate of 52.52. While lower than the 54.543 mill rate in 2022, it still exceeds the Revenue Neutral Rate (RNR), Francis said.
RNR is the tax rate that would generate the same total property tax dollars for the city as the previous year using the current year’s assessed valuation. For 2023, that rate would be 51.13 mills.
So, when the council holds its next regular meeting this coming Monday, it will vote to exceed the RNR, which will force a public hearing. The city will then notify the Barton County Clerk’s Office of its intention and publish the budget Aug. 28 in the Great Bend Tribune.
The RNR hearing is set for the Sept. 6 meeting, just prior to the regular budget hearing. It will be at that meeting the council ultimately approves the budget.
The plan also includes $23,959,000 in operating revenue. Of that, 29% comes from sales taxes and 11% from property taxes, with the rest from sewer and water fees, and other sources (other fees, permits, facility rentals, franchise fees, etc.).
Of the expenditures, capital improvements/equipment, Police Department and Fire Department account for over half the budget. The remainder goes to parks, public works, staff benefits and other agencies.
The council as a whole backed the plan, even though some had some concerns.
“I think you guys did a great job,” Ward 1 Councilman Alan Moeder said of the administrative staff. “I don’t think the public has anything to complain about.”
Some good news
“The valuation did increase for the first time in four years,” Francis told the council. The valuation, the net value of all property, increased by $6.8 million to $110,101,598.
One mill is one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value. For Great Bend in 2023, each mill is worth $110,102.
Council members picked through the proposal, making minor tweaks to it.
A tour of the budget
Francis walked the council through the proposed budget. He highlighted key areas, including budget components like a cost-of-living raise for staff, an increase in insurance premiums, priority projects, vehicle purchases and how the city plans to fund outside agencies.
Some budget highlights:
• Cost of living raise: This is a 3% increase across the board with another 2% merit-based increase.
• Staffing: Included is the hiring of an assistant city administrator and a information technology technician.
• Health insurance: There will be a 7% increase for both staff and the city caused by the number claims in the partially self-funded plan.
• Retirement: This includes the changes to the city’s retirement plan for uniformed police and fire personnel and all city staff. The city will contribute 8.5% for all employees, bringing the city plan in line with the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
• Public Lands: Included are new outdoor basketball courts at Brit Spaugh Park and other projects, as well as utilizing the new quality of life sales tax revenue.
• Public Safety: Here higher fuel prices, a doubling of the per-day charge to house city inmates in the Barton County Jail and the new Police Station complex were factored in to the plan. Also, maintenance costs and long-term planning for new equipment (such as a new $1 million-plus ladder truck) for the fire department are considered.
• Public Works: Here, $950,000 is earmarked for residential street repairs. Also, included is a Stormwater Master Plan possibly tapping American Recovery Plan Act funds, a costly inventory of all lead pipes in use in the city and the automated (water) meter reading system.
Much of the discussion Monday night centered around how the city funds outside agencies. These are entities that are not officially a part of the city, but serve residents and have historically received financial support.
After parsing Francis’ recommendations, council members made several tweaks to the proposal. But, they plan on taking a closer look at this practice, possibly dropping agencies that do not have contracts with the city and those where there is no state statutory obligation for funding.
In the meantime, the following amounts were tucked into the budget:
• Volunteers in Action of Central Kansas/RSVP: $2,550 for the medical transportation program, 85% of the $3,000 requested. The proposed budget had originally not recommended any funding.
• Barton County Fair: $5,000. This is the same as last year, although $10,000 was requested.
• Barton County Historical Society: $10,000. The proposed budget had originally not recommended any funding.
• Golden Belt Humane Society: Fully funding at $105,000. The city is under contract with the society.
• Commission on Aging: $224,950. This reflects the $227,500 the agency received last year, minus the $2,550 that goes to VIA/RSVP.
• Great Bend Economic Development Inc.: $250,000, as requested. The recommendation was for $180,000, with an additional $70,000 with council approval.
• Great Bend Public Library: $712,000, same as last year. They had requested a $10,000 increase.
• Sunflower Diversified Services: Heeding administrative recommendations, funding is not included. However, the city will offer to give Sunflower the city-owned recycling trailer that sits at 18th and Williams.
The city had been giving Sunflower $4,500 for recycling services.