Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series about the Great Bend City Council’s 2015 budget-planning session Tuesday night. Part one dealt with the council’s goals. This installment will delve into the budget’s numbers and what they mean.
Goals are one thing.
Paying for them is another.
That was the message delivered by Great Bend City Administrator Howard Partington to the City Council Tuesday night. Council members had gathered for their annual budget session, a time for them to comb through the numbers and charts Partington had prepared to see if they were in line with their goals for the community.
Key 2015 budget discussion items during the meeting were the need for a new position in the Municipal Court to help keep up with an increased work load, a new code enforcement officer to tackle sub-standard structures and salary increases for city employees, especially in the police and fire departments.
“Revenue is holding stable,” Partington said. He was referring to property and sales tax dollars, which make up about half of the city’s income.
Budgeting low and frugal spending have left a $4 million-plus cash carry-over from 2014, he said. This is not a rare phenomenon and the city routinely rolls over around $4-5 million each year.
The proposed budget calls for $24,738,000 in total expenditures, an increase of about 4.2 percent over last year, based on roughly a 47.24 mill levy, up from 45.8 in 2014. The city should publish its budget during the first week of August and hold its budget hearing prior to the council meeting Aug. 18 at the City Office.
The city’s funding pie is a complex one, Partington said. He hit on the highlights Tuesday.
Property taxes come from three sources – personal property, real estate and state-assessed. Together, they make up 23 percent of the city’s revenue.
Due to the increased number of exemptions, personal property revenue was down $1.6 million last year to $2.11 million. But, the city more than made up for that loss with a $3 million increase in real estate taxes which climbed to $85.7 million.
The state assessed went up about $200,000 to about $9.3 million. This comes from taxes paid to the state by utilities, rail roads and other such entities.
The dollars generated by property taxes are based on the assessed valuation, or the total assessed value of the property in the city. This increased $3 million to $97,479,333.
“That’s real, real good news,” Partington said. “That shows growth.”
A mill equals $1 per $1,000 in assessed valuation. So, each mill for the city is worth about $97,479, a $3,000 jump over last year.
Despite this, the budget includes at 1.4 mill increase, in part to cover the cost of new staff positions and other possible projects. The city’s mill rate has hovered between 40 and 45 for the past decade.
However, Partington said, the city’s half-cent sales tax in place since 2000 has helped keep the mill levy down from five to eight mills over the years (7.78 in 2014 and 7.64 for the upcoming year). It was designed to lower property taxes, stoke economic development and provide extra funds for infrastructure improvements.
“Basically, we’re solid there,” Partington said of sales tax collections. “We’re doing well.”
The city’s share of the county-wide sales tax is projected to net $2 million, the half-cent city tax (discussed earlier) about $2 million and the city’s special quarter-cent sales tax (passed in 2008 for street improvements) another $960,000.
The county and city half-cent taxes account for 10 percent of the total city income each. The quarter-cent tax makes up 5 percent.
Sewer charges are the next single biggest slice of the budget pie at 13 percent. For the 2015 budget, it is expected to yield about $2.3 million.
But, Partington said, the sewer fund has been slipping into the red. Behind the police and fire departments, this is the most costly city service, and the city likes to keep a balance in this fund in case of a major problem.
So, the budget includes a 15-percent sewer rate increase. The next increase may come in 2018.
Also in this regard, revenues from police fines are projected to be $405,000 which is higher than years past. Up to $55,000 of this can be used to fund a new position in the municipal court needed for the increased activity.
The city is expected to receive about $409,000 as its share of the state-collected gasoline tax. This amount has been going down as vehicles have been getting more fuel efficient.
Where is the money going?
The city is looking at adding at least two new full-time positions. The first is in the court system mentioned above. The second is a new staff member who’s job it would be to expedite run-down house inspections and demolitions.
Funding for the first comes from police fines. For the second, the council authorized Partington to add $60,000 to the budget (the equivalent to 1.5 mills) to cover it.
The budget includes $20,000 hikes each in the zoo, parks and cemetery funds. This could be used to hire a public lands director, a position that has been unfilled for a few years and covered by Human Resource Director Terry Hoff.
There was also talk of hiring an assistant city administrator. Council members discussed the possibility of some of these jobs being combined to save money.
Some of these jobs might mesh well together and some might not, council members said.
To give the council more latitude in dealing with the Convention Center, Partington said he added an additional $120,000 in budget authority for that fund. Part of it could be used to hire a director for the facility, a job now handled by City Attorney Bob Suelter.
This brings the budget authority to $260,000, however that money may be split between the center and the Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau.
As for salaries, the budget includes a 4 percent increase for all city employees. This marks the fourth year of 4 percent raises in an attempt by the city to bring pay in line with similarly sized communities.
The city had seen a lot of turn-over in personnel. So, a salary survey was conducted, indicating Great Bend was behind.
However, there was considerable discussion Monday about the size of the pay raises, particularly in regard to the fire and police departments. There have been numerous firefighters and police officers who have left to higher-paying jobs, creating a costly revolving door, department officials said.
And, city officials said, there is no way Great Bend can compete with some communities, such as Newton or Wichita, in terms of pay.
“You can opt to raise the mill levy more,” Partington said. But, he has been instructed to try and keep it down.
“I don’t want to pay more taxes, nobody does,” said Council Member Dana Dawson. But, it may be needed.
In the end, it was decided that a new salary survey was in order. This would give the council some idea where Great Bend ranked and if more adjustments were needed.