Low property taxes one of priorities for UG Commission

Keeping property taxes low or at their current rate is one of the priorities the Unified Government Commission gave Administrator Doug Bach on March 20.

At the 5 p.m. UG meeting, Bach said that the commission also has made it one of its goals to balance the budget. This year, the UG had $4 million more in expenses than revenues, UG officials said.

“We’re already starting at a deficit,” he said.

Many goals were discussed at earlier commission workshops on the budget, including restoring the fund balances, more aggressively approaching capital improvements, doing planning work in their early stages, and a liaison position for the commission. Each commissioner would have about $10,000 to use for research or consultants under one proposal.

Commissioner Hal Walker discussed the Wyandotte County Fairgrounds’ request for funding. It currently receives about $77,000 and is requesting another $100,000 this year.

There is also a request for a bond issue to finish building out the structures at the fairgrounds, including building a trap shoot target range and a recreational vehicle park. Plans would include a pocket park, walking trail and playground for residents. It would be the only park in Piper, he added. The fair foundation would be responsible for the bonds, according to Walker.

Walker said a vote in 1954 authorized three-tenths of 1 mill for the fairgrounds, but that it has not been levied recently. The fair was told to move from its long-standing location at 98th and State to make room for the Schlitterbahn development. After four years of temporary locations, the fair found a permanent location near K-7 and Polfer Road.

Commissioner Jane Philbrook supported the idea of an improved fairgrounds, and thought it was important to the children, and also could be part of a destination community bringing others to the area to compete in competitions. It has plans to support itself with the RV park and the competitions it will hold.

Commissioner Mike Kane pointed out that the fair never got what the people intended it to get when they voted to allow three-tenths of 1 mill.

“It’s time to right the ship,” he said. “Maybe we don’t owe it to the adults, but we owe it to the children.”

While some commissioners questioned the attendance in recent years, and talked about doing what was reasonable now, Kane said, “This is hugely important in District 5. Everybody wants a piece of the pie. These guys have had their pie stolen from them and all they want is their pie.”

Walker said that that the county has invested money and has half of the project done, and the question was whether to invest the rest of the money to make it succeed.

Commissioner Brian McKiernan suggested stabilizing it this year, and laying out options for the future to move it forward.

Commissioner Gayle Townsend was in favor of scholarships or grants to help with the costs of EMT training, so that more local residents and minorities are included in the cadet program.

Commissioner Tarence Maddox said he would like to make sure the Community Development Block Grant funds will reach low-to-moderate income residents of the 1st, 4th, 3rd and 2nd UG districts. There will be another special session to discuss CDBG grants, Mayor Mark Holland said.

The mayor supported a data renovations project. A classification and compensation study and review of public safety functions also were goals that were discussed.

McKiernan also discussed the top priorities of the citizen survey, including street maintenance and motor vehicle registration improvement.

Given the projects that are already committed, and the possible reduction in revenues, it may be a challenging budget year for the UG. Local officials believe it will be another year or two before finances ease up with the early payoff of the Village West sales tax revenue bonds and more revenue coming in.

The commission will have to fund a $25 million radio communications system already approved, about $1.3 million per year to come out of the county funds, UG officials said.

While it is possible to reduce the Kansas City, Kan., mill levy slightly to balance the county increase, so that a resident of Kansas City, Kan., will not see much of a change, the commission cannot balance it out for Bonner Springs or Edwardsville, Bach said.  The radio project, for police, fire, emergency and utility communication, means a slight increase for the county rate.

Another $1.8 million a year could be lost in UG revenues if a mortgage registration bill passes in Topeka, according to Holland.  The latest version of the bill calls for phased-in cuts, starting at a cut of about $400,000 to $500,000 the first year, according to UG officials.

According to legislative records, that bill phasing out the mortgage registration fee passed the Kansas Senate on Wednesday, March 19, and was introduced in the House March 20. The bill also has a slight fee increase for recording some documents.

Some commissioners also said they wanted any personnel reductions to be in the form of attrition, not layoffs. Holland earlier talked about the possibility of reducing overtime for public safety employees to substantially reduce costs.

The commission is getting an early start on the budget, about six months ahead of last year’s schedule, according to the mayor.

Commissioners also sorted through community requests and listed their priorities.

Holland noted that while the commission is setting its priorities to help the administrator craft a budget, nothing has been voted on, and final decisions will be made later when the commission votes on the budget.

UG Commission to meet March 20

The Unified Government Commission will meet March 20 at City Hall, 701 N. 7th St., Kansas City, Kan.

A special session will begin at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 20, in the Commission Chambers, lobby level, to discuss final budget priorities of the commission.

The regular UG Commission meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Commission Chambers.

An agenda for the regular meeting may be posted at www.wycokck.org.


Activist UG Commission faces unique challenges

Satisfaction with city services was shown on this chart from a citizen survey.

March 8, 2014


by Mary Rupert

A very active Unified Government Commission faces unique budget challenges this year.

In a meeting Saturday at City Hall, commissioners heard a variety of information that may help them sort out their budget issues and make hard decisions on cutting and funding programs.

Topping their list of budget considerations was holding the property tax level. At the same time as holding down the property tax, they will be trying to increase the UG’s fund balances. They learned Thursday night that one of the ratings agencies, Moody’s, may decrease their bond rating if they do not increase the fund balances. A lower bond rating could lead to increased spending in the future on debt service. Another bond rating service, S&P, has given the UG a higher rating than Moody’s.

On Saturday, commissioners also discussed being on the hook for a new $25 million radio communications system approved by a former UG commission. Those funds have already been spent and the payments will come from the county side of the budget, they were told.

The commissioners are discussing their budget priorities and will present them to the administration on March 20.

New Administrator Doug Bach thanked the commissioners for their ideas and said at the end of the lengthy meeting that it appears that the first priority will be to cut $1.3 million out of the operating budget, given the commission’s priority to hold down property taxes.

Mayor Mark Holland suggested targeting overtime and out-of-class pay to hold down costs. The UG is spending $6.5 million in those costs, the budget director reported.

Those funds could be used to help pay for the increased fund balances and also for the new radio system, according to UG officials.

Mayor Holland also remarked that perhaps valuations would go up, while the mill levy would be held steady.

The mayor has supported increased data-driven decisions to find efficiencies.

Commissioner Ann Murguia long has supported using community surveys to rank spending priorities.

Commissioners are delving into budget details through several committees.

Commissioners are studying the budget requests from the community in detail, going over them in a committee.

A citizen survey presented Saturday by Chris Tatham, executive vice president of ETC Institute, will help the commission rank these requests according to the priorities listed on the survey.

Citizens are most interested in better streets, according to the survey, but in recent years, the UG has cut the funding for street maintenance.

Other priorities listed by the survey, for improving city services: code enforcement, communication with the public, public transit and police.

The top priorities for the county services included aging services, motor vehicle registration services and parks.

The three most important community issues included safe neighborhoods, schools and jobs.  There was also strong support to do more to promote economic development, the survey found.

The budget is still in the discussion stage, and none of it is final. The commission began studying the budget months earlier than it did last year.