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Hoisington City Council considering sales tax ballot question
Seeking ways to avoid property tax increase
City of Hoisington offices at the Hoisington Municipal Complex.

HOISINGTON — In July, Jonathan Mitchell, Hoisington’s city manager, urged council members to return a survey identifying priorities for 2020. In a brief overview of the results, maintaining stable property tax and utility rates topped the list for 2020. Improving sidewalks and the public swimming pool were also identified as favorable projects. 

Repairs and updates to the pool and the bathhouse have been underway since 2018 but, earlier this year, a new development came to the city’s attention. Groundwater infiltration was detected, and to provide counterpressure, the city filled the pool. Since then, between 600,000 and 700,000 gallons of water have leaked out. The pool will close on Aug. 11 and it will be drained in order to assess repairs needed, Mitchell said. 

The council agreed on dates for three special study sessions leading up to approval and publication of the budget in August. The council met on Wednesday night, July 24 at 6 p.m., and planned to meet again on Friday, July 26, and Monday, July 29. 

Noting that a half-cent sales tax with proceeds earmarked for street improvements will roll off in September, 2020, Mitchell suggested a November ballot question asking if the residents of Hoisington would be in favor of extending the tax, but broadening its scope to include maintaining and improving public streets and infrastructure, stabilizing property tax revenue, improving, maintaining, equipping or constructing a public swimming pool, or to provide improvements necessary to enhance the public’s quality of life to take effect on Oct. 1. There were no objections, so Mitchell pressed further, stating the need to begin educating the public about the question in advance of the 2019 election.  

He asked for and received permission from the council Monday night to provide an overview of the levied funds included in the proposed 2020 budget. 

But first, during the city manager’s update, Mitchell reported progress is being made on several projects at Bicentennial Park now that the ground has begun to dry up after extensive rains saturated the soil there throughout the spring and early summer. Since the last meeting, pickleball courts have been paved, work is underway at the baseball fields, and the dog park installation is progressing quickly. 

Work is also progressing on the wastewater lagoon project and, at the electrical plant, installation of the programmable logic controller (PLC) is nearing an end. 

Cost of new police officer may be too much

The General Fund includes budgets for the following departments: General administrative, law, police, ambulance, fire, municipal building, parks, cemetery, swimming pool, streets, economic development, non-operating, and employee benefits. Mitchell broke the fund down item by item by department. 

At the July 8 meeting, Police Chief Kenton Doze requested the council consider increasing the police department budget enough to bring on a seventh full-time officer. Currently, the department is short handed due to at least one newer officer undergoing training at the police academy and the search is on for a part-time officer. The shortage of officers has resulted in the department having to put off search warrants in some instances in order to ensure adequate coverage for the city, he said. But, it’s expensive to bring on a new full-time employee, with salary and benefits and other miscellaneous expenses anticipated. 

Mitchell estimates it would require a property tax increase of 5 mills to cover the cost of one officer. That’s $24,000 to $26,000 for a new employee with family, he said. Currently, the department is spending around $20,000 in overtime. Still, council member Jim Morris said he would like to take a closer look at this during Wednesday’s meeting. 

The special fire equipment fund for 2020 will see a major decrease over past years due to the formation of Barton County Fire District No. 2 earlier this year. The proposed budget includes a smaller carryover than the 2019 budget, and also includes high levels of interest earned and back tax collection. The sources of revenue for the fund will be taxes, interest and carryover. Over the next couple of years, this fund will be depleted, Mitchell said. 

Decrease proposed for library fund, but residents likely to see big increase in city bill

The library fund is another special fund. The Hoisington Library is part of the Central Kansas Library System. It depends on the city for revenue collected in the form of taxes, interest and carryover funds. It is essential the budget set by the city does not fall below amounts set by the state in order not to jeopardize grant opportunities through the state. Still, the proposed 7.257 mills for the library fund is down from the 2019 budgeted 7.418 mills. 

General Bond and Interest is increasing significantly, however, from .718 in 2019 to 1.653 in 2020 as the city begins paying for necessary work being done on the lift station. Residents will see an increase in their city bills as a result. How much of an increase was to be presented at Wednesday’s study session.

Meeting at a glance

Here’s a quick look at what happened Monday night at the Hoisington City Council meeting:

• Approved a consent agenda that included: minutes from the July 8 council meeting, a Cereal Malt Beverage (CMB) funding request from the Hoisington Chamber for computer replacement, and a Hoisington High School Booster Club after hours CMB consumption permit for Bicentennial Park on Aug. 14 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

• Heard a public comment from Robert Bruce concerning the restrooms at Pride Park. Repairs have been completed, according to City Manager Jonathan Mitchell.

• Discussed council priorities and rankings, laying out the council’s priorities for the 2020 budget process.

• Discussed the budget time frame and highlights. Study sessions will be held July 24, 26 and 29 at 6 p.m. each night in the council’s chamber. 

• Heard the city manager’s updates on city projects at Bicentennial Park, the wastewater lagoon and the electrical plant. 

• Mitchell presented the proposed budget for the city’s levied funds.