No UG property tax increase for KCK residents

The Unified Government Commission tonight passed a $295.8 million budget that will not increase the property tax rate for Kansas City, Kan., residents.

The UG approved a “net zero” budget that increases the county mill levy by 2 mills and decreases the Kansas City, Kan., city mill levy by 2 mills. That means no UG tax increase for KCK residents, but residents of Bonner Springs and Edwardsville will have different city mill levies added to the 2-mill county increase.

Commissioners Jim Walters and Ann Murguia voted against the 2015 and amended 2014 budget.

Walters, whose district includes Bonner Springs, said he was concerned about increasing the county tax. The UG Commission was told that there was a $400,000 loss in revenue from the state, and that the previous commission spent millions on an emergency radio system that required raising county taxes.

He said he doesn’t think the previous commission, if they thought the radio system was mandatory, would have purchased it without making any accommodation for a revenue stream to pay for it. There was no stream identified, and the staff has had a year and a half to have it covered.

“I don’t think we should be raising taxes to do so,” Walters said.

The budget does not contain employee raises. Commissioner Mike Kane said he would like the UG administrator, Doug Bach, to come up with a plan to give employees a raise for the following year. When wages are frozen for seven years, “you’re not just behind, you’re way behind,” he said.

Mayor Mark Holland said he had not been able to accommodate all of the budget goals this year. He said he thinks the mill rate was appropriate, realizes it was not a flat rate for Edwardsville and Bonner, and feels that the structural balance on the county side was appropriate.

This budget commissions three studies for public safety, Holland said. He said public safety is a top priority, along with reducing the mill levy, strengthening the fund balance and supporting employees.

“All of our priorities collided and we had to make the best decision we could,” Holland said.

The mayor said growth in public safety spending has gone up 40 percent over the last nine years and is not sustainable. The greatest threat to public safety is the inability to adequately fund them, he said. However, he wants to continue to maintain the level of serves and safety.

Several other proposed budget resolutions passed, including one that retains the PILOT fee on the BPU bill at 11.9 percent, and a 7 percent increase in water pollution fee charges. Commissioner Hal Walker voted against the PILOT fee, but it passed, 7-1.

The budget that was passed was the administrator’s proposed budget, with some amendments that were made to it on Monday. The commission also considered an option to raise the city mill levy up to the amount of the past year to add to the fund balance, but commissioners decided not to raise taxes.

The administrator’s budget amendments announced July 28 included adding and subtracting some items to stay at the same proposed mill levy rate. The citizen survey in 2014 was deleted; two positions were added to the house arrest-pretrial program, which may reduce the number of inmates housed; a summer public works program with more youth to mow parks and vacant lots was added; a Fire Department equipment grant was announced with matching funds coming from projected fuel savings.

In the Kansas City, Kan., school district, the proposed property tax was an 11-mill decrease. The Turner school district also had a double-digit proposed decrease.

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