UG Commission looking at small windfall for next budget

Unified Government commissioners learned about a small unexpected windfall during a budget discussion on Monday.

UG Administrator Doug Bach told the commission that the UG will receive a one-time payment this year of $6.5 million for land revenues from Cerner and Sporting Kansas City. Plus, the UG will receive a penalty payment from the Hollywood Casino hotel of $1.3 million for 2014, $1.4 million for 2015, and an unknown amount for 2016, Bach said.

Added together, that is about $9.2 million the UG will receive, before the anticipated 2017 revenues come in from the Village West sales tax revenue bonds that are paid off. The Unified Government Commission met Monday in a lengthy special strategic planning meeting.

Originally, Bach said, the Cerner-Sporting KC money was to be spread out over 10 years, but the UG staff worked with Cerner to get the money paid back now. The $6.5 million was additional land payments that had not been budgeted for this year, he said.

The hotel penalty had been negotiated into a contract with the Hollywood Casino, and was put into the contract in case the casino did not want to build a hotel because of the market conditions, according to Bach. He said it will probably be a couple of years before the casino goes forward to build a hotel, but he is not adding the penalty amount to future budgets because it is uncertain – at any time the casino could go ahead with the project.

Bach presented recommendations from the UG staff on how to spend this increased amount of money.

For the casino hotel penalty funds plus an estimated increase in assessed valuation revenues, he proposed $2.8 million for employee compensation; radio project debt, $500,000; acquisition, rehab and demolition of property, $500,000; Fire Department SAFER grant (which is expiring), $300,000. These are annual expenses, according to UG officials.

Bach’s recommendations for the land payment funds were one-time payments: restoring the fund balance, $2 million; employee health fund, $2 million; workers’ compensation fund, $500,000; water pollution control fund, $500,000; Police Department body cameras, $500,000; and other capital equipment, $1 million.

They were all big-ticket items, and instead of waiting until 2017 to address them, the UG can start looking at them now, Bach said.

The UG is discussing replacing some of the funds that were borrowed in past years from the fund balance and some of the funds, according to UG officials.

The UG had a brief discussion about body cameras, with some commissioners supporting waiting until they had matching funding from the federal government, or waiting until they had enough money to fund enough cameras and equipment before starting the program. Bach described $500,000 as a “down payment” for the body camera program. Several commissioners expressed doubt about jumping in too early for this program.

Mayor Mark Holland said a public safety task force will present recommendations on June 4 at a commission meeting, and final decisions to be made at a later commission meeting. Some of those big-ticket items June 4 will be restoring the cadet programs, according to UG officials.

Among the other items discussed by commissioners, but not necessarily approved, were a fund for $30,000 for each commissioner to spend on projects in the district; creation of a park for disabled children and residents; an additional staff member for animal control; and a rewriting of the UG’s sign codes.

No one suggested using the $9.2 million to lower property taxes, although property tax reductions are on the long-range goal list. However, Mayor Mark Holland said that reducing property taxes for the 2017 budget would be the top policy recommendation, and the commission needs to decide how much it wants to reduce property taxes then.

There will be about $12 million in new revenue, he said, and some has been committed for fund restoration and employee compensation.

“We’re going to need a significant property tax reduction to come out of some of that money,” he said.

In some ways, the UG would be shifting some of the tax burden from property taxes to sales taxes as part of the long-term plan for 2017, he said.

No final decisions were made on the budget today. The meeting was to discuss strategic planning, and some changes would be likely to the ideas that were presented.

During the meeting, Commissioner Brian McKiernan gave a presentation about rehabilitating homes that are abandoned and deteriorating, increasing the property tax base, and demolishing vacant homes that are unfit. Several options would be available to the UG. The UG’s goal would be to stop the erosion of the tax base. There were some opinions on the commission that demolition has to be reduced, while there were other opinions that demolition needs to continue.

The presentation may be viewed on the UG’s YouTube channel as part of the May 11 special session.

UG Seeks Sheriff Deputies

UG KCK logoThe Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas Sheriff’s Office is seeking Deputies. Responsibilities include day to day operations of the county jail. For more information regarding qualifications and application instructions, please visit our website at or contact Human Resources at 913.573.5660.

Must be a resident of Wyandotte County or be willing to relocate within 12 months of the date of hire. Salary is $2,887.67 monthly. EOE.

  • A compensated placement from Human Resources at Unified Government of Wyandotte County, KS.

UG hears legislative update about guns in workplace, other bills

A push in the Kansas Legislature would loosen laws allowing people to carry guns in the workplace and to carry concealed weapons without licenses.

Unified Government lobbyist Mike Taylor told the UG Commission Thursday night that it appeared that a concealed carry bill easily passed the Senate and is being heard in the House that allowed people to carry concealed weapons without a permit, a background check or any training.

A second bill, Senate Bill 65, would supersede policy at the UG which does not allow employees to carry a gun while they are on the job, he said. Certain employees, such as the police chief, are exempt from the UG policy. The UG is opposing this bill.

Under this bill, the state Legislature would supersede the UG’s policy and tell it that if an employee has a concealed carry permit, the employer can’t tell the employee not to carry a gun while at work, Taylor said.

Many of the state legislators who are backing this bill rail against the federal government’s imposing health care or environmental mandates on the state, and then the state legislators turn around and do the very same thing to the cities and counties, Taylor said. Many of the state legislators from Wyandotte County are supporting the UG’s position, but they are in the minority.

“I point that out to them [the bill’s backers] frequently how hypocritical that is,” Taylor said. “There is such a thing as local control, and there’s constitutional home rule in Kansas that lets us make those kinds of decisions. But for them to reach into our personnel policies and tell us that we can’t tell our own employees in the workplace how they need to perform, I think is just egregious.”

The UG has received an exemption for three years on allowing guns at its buildings, but after that, it must decide whether to allow guns at the recreation centers or to set up metal detectors and security guards there, he said.

On the topic of carrying a gun without a license, Taylor said, “Whether I’ve got a gun that’s openly showing or got it hidden in my jacket, once I draw that gun, I have a gun in my hand. Shouldn’t I have some kind of training on how to use that gun? I can’t drive a car without taking a test. Shouldn’t I have to take some kind of test to handle a gun?”

Senate Bill 171 advanced that would move city and school board elections to the fall of odd-numbered years, he said. Currently they are held in the spring. Under the current bill they would remain nonpartisan.

There will be hearings on the bill in the House next week. Taylor said there is a concern that the House might put the state and federal elections together with the city and school elections on one ballot on even-numbered years.

He said he is afraid that if they were at the bottom of the ballot, people would not vote on those contests. Also, some are wondering if the machines that count votes could read long ballots.

Mayor Mark Holland remarked that the bill would double the length of time between the primary and general election for city and county candidates. Now there are five weeks, and this would be 10, a significantly longer campaign season.

Taylor said that so far, the city and school elections are still nonpartisan, which was important to the UG.

Abandoned housing
He said an effort to pass a bill on expediting efforts to deal with abandoned housing has hit a snag in the Legislature. There had been a compromise worked out with different groups, but it ran into late opposition and died at the turnaround day, he said.

As a backup, another bill was introduced on the House side, and Rep. Stan Frownfelter was instrumental in moving the bill forward, Taylor said. There may be hearings on it in the House, he said.

Immigration bill
A bill in the Legislature that would eliminate in-state tuition for immigrants is now carrying several anti-immigration measures, he said. The UG has been working with a coalition on immigration reform.

Taylor said the UG opposes several measures that would cost it more money, including using e-verify on all employees; and requiring police to conduct immigration checks when they make stops. Some of these measures would crowd the local jail, Taylor said, costing local taxpayers more money.

Interest rate on late taxes
A bill that would increase the interest rate charged on those who do not pay their taxes on time was brought back, Taylor said. Its purpose is to be an incentive to pay taxes on time, according to Taylor. The interest would go up by 5 percent to a total of 9 percent.

Tax measures
Taylor said there is a $600 million hole in the budget, just for this year, and the year ends June 30. Between now and June 30, the state is trying to find $600 million, he said.

There are a number of bills introduced that would raise taxes in various areas, he said.

One bill would add sales tax on top of residential utilities, a 5.3 percent additional tax on the customer’s electric bill, he said.

Another one would place a surcharge on transient guest tax, he said. That amount could be a 5.3 percent increase. Taylor said to Overland Park, that would mean a city sales tax, transient tax and surcharge, to total almost 20 percent on top of the hotel bill.

Being close to the state line, he said, some visitors may just decide to stay in Missouri and drive across the state line to visit Kansas without staying in hotels here.

There is also a state proposal that would increase property taxes. Currently, the first 20 mills of the property tax goes to the state to pay for schools, he said. That mill levy is not applied to the first $20,000 of value on a home.

One bill would take that tax exemption away, increasing property taxes as it eliminates the first $20,000 exemption, he said.

There are other bills that would increase taxes on oil leases, royalties and other income, he said.

“It really is like going to the couch and looking under the cushions for nickels and dimes to try to fill a $600 million hole,” Taylor said.