The Unified Government Commission tonight approved a $376 million budget with a 2-mill city tax decrease, but property tax bills will likely go up slightly because of a 7.9 percent average valuation increase.
The 2-mill decrease is a reduction of about 5 percent, according to UG officials. When residential taxpayers get their property tax bills, if they have a $100,000 home with an average 7.9 percent valuation increase, they may be paying $92 more than last year. If their valuation did not change from last year, they may be paying a little less than last year.
Commissioner Gayle Townsend asked the commission tonight to allow the Wyandotte County District Attorney to have the immediate use of the funds for the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), and not to put them in a special fund where he could not use them at the present time.
The Kansas City, Kansas, police chief and other law enforcement asked for a state attorney general’s review of the DA’s new CIU program on Monday night, and the UG commissioners then decided Monday to put the CIU funds into a special fund while awaiting a review.
The wording of the budget resolution that was passed tonight says that the funds will be in a special account under the county administrator, and will be held until the full commission authorizes it for expenditure, the UG attorney said. The actual wording for this fund does not say that it depends on the attorney general’s review. It’s up to the commission to decide when this funding will be utilized, the UG attorney stated.
Commissioner Townsend said her reading of the DA’s letter showed that there were backstops in this program that would preclude the DA “from willy-nilly letting people out of jail.” The cases would be fully investigated. The CIU program would make sure that no one spends more time in jail than they should when they are indeed innocent, she said.
“Just as the sheriff and police chief have come to us in the past for money, equipment and staffing they need to do their jobs, I would suggest we give the DA the same thing and make it immediately available to him,” she said. Commissioner Townsend said she expected to discuss this issue at the 5 p.m. budget workshop tonight, but that meeting was canceled.
A motion by Commissioner Townsend to immediately free the money set aside for the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit was not allowed by Mayor David Alvey Thursday night because another motion for the budget approval was already on the floor.
On a 7-3 vote, with Commissioners Townsend, Ann Brandau Murguia and Harold Johnson voting no, the budget passed, with the provision in it that ties up the CIU program funding. While the CIU funding was authorized, it will not be available yet.
“This will be revisited and you will have the opportunity to appropriate the money as allocated,” Mayor Alvey told Commissioner Townsend.
Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree released this statement after the meeting:
“First we congratulate the UG Board of Commissioners on approving the 2019 Budget. Their hard work is truly appreciated. As for the funding of the Conviction Integrity Unit, we are not dismayed. The commission was waiting on State Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s input. He has stated he does not have the legal jurisdiction over trial-level cases in the District Attorney’s Office, which includes CIU cases.
“It is entirely possible the full commission was not privy to this information. Now that this is known, we believe the commission will address the issue and we remain hopeful the funds will be allocated, soon.”
Mayor Alvey told the budget staff tonight that they did a good job of allocating the resources, limited as they are.
The UG has been working since March on the budget, has held many meetings on it, and surveyed residents to determine their priorities.
UG Administrator Doug Bach said the general fund budget is based on revenues coming in from other sources, including the renewal of the three-eighths cent sales tax for public safety and infrastructure, which is up for election on Aug. 7.
If the renewal of the public safety three-eighths cent sales tax does not pass, Bach said he would be asking the UG Commission to reconsider the 2-mill reduction.
A 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment was approved for most UG employees, and a 3 percent raise went to police and sheriff personnel.
A UG spokesman stated that the city’s property tax rate has been cut for three years in a row. The past two years’ reduction was a total 8.8 percent cut. The three years’ cut totaled almost 14 percent.
According to UG figures, in 1996, when the city and county consolidated, a property owner would have paid $1,116 on a $100,000 house. Now, the owner of a $100,000 house will pay $884 in UG property tax in 2019, the spokesman stated. It is a net 21 percent reduction in property taxes during the past 20 years.
The new Kansas City, Kansas, property tax rate will be 38 mills, down from 40 mills last year. Twelve of the 25 largest cities in Kansas now have higher property taxes than Kansas City, Kansas, the spokesman stated.
Wyandotte County’s property tax rate will stay the same this year as last year, around 38.88 mills.
The city and county together make up less than half of the total tax bill, with other taxing entities adding to the property tax bill, including the public schools, the community college and the state of Kansas.
According to the UG spokesman, about $6.2 million of the $12.4 million in paid-off STAR (sales tax revenue) bond revenues from the Village West Tourism District are being used for property tax relief, $4.2 million for capital construction projects, and $2 million for new program initiatives. The STAR bond sales tax revenues are being spent on public safety, the SOAR blight reduction effort, street and road maintenance, and other community services, according to the spokesman.
The budget resolutions that passed tonight include the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) fee on the Board of Public Utilities bill at the same as it is currently, 11.9 percent. The PILOT fee passed 9-1, with Commissioner Tom Burroughs voting no.
Sewer service rates would increase five percent, approved on a 9-1 vote with Commissioner Burroughs voting no.
The library board tax rate, the downtown Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) tax rate, and the 2018-2019 action plan for the CDBG were unanimously approved.
More extensive information about the UG budget is at www.wycokck.org.
For an earlier story, visit http://wyandottedaily.com/ug-budget-approval-scheduled-thursday-night/
This story has been updated.