Newton City Commissioners continued to discuss the 2014 budget, but did not reach a consensus, at a work session Tuesday night.
Commissioner Leroy Koehn said he recognized the difficult task before the commission, and commissioners agreed they should meet to discuss the budget at another work session before making a final decision.
“We need to solve this problem,” he said.
Although commissioners were hesitant to raise taxes — 7 mills has been proposed — Commissioner Racquel Thiesen also cautioned commissioners from postponing too many expenses to future years in order to save money in the short term.
“We’re continuing to rob Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “We’re at a point where there’s hardly enough of Peter to rob.”
Commissioners proposed a variety of scenarios during the work session. Commissioner Bob Smyth suggested keeping the fire/EMS, police and law departments at 2013 spending levels, instead of the proposed increases to the departments.
Lunda Asmani, assistant city manager for budget and finance, said in order to keep expenses for these departments at 2013 levels, cuts will have to be made because the cost of doing in business in 2014 is going up.
“They will not be able to operate at the same money and do the same service,” Mayor Jim Nickel said.
Newton Fire/EMS Chief Mark Willis said his department might have to eliminate one or two positions and reduce overtime, if a cut is required. Police Chief Jim Daily said his department already has made reductions and has “no place to cut.”
Koehn recommended a compromise, such as raising the mill levy by 3 mills and making some cuts, rather than the original 7 mills that originally had been proposed.
Commissioner Glen Davis said economic development or road work were areas that could perhaps be cut. He was frustrated by how economic development has been handled by the city.
“I haven’t seen us do any economic development except throwing money down the drain,” he said. “We need to utilize the resources we’re spending on that right now and spend it better somewhere else.”
“The KLP (Kansas Logistics Park) is a want — police and fire services right now are a need,” Smyth agreed. “… I don’t want to cut. But if we’re going to cut, then KLP has got to be cut. This year, we’re in big trouble. … I think we owe it to our citizens. I don’t think we owe it to a dream.”
Thiesen said the city’s economic development funding was not just about the KLP, but she still did not want to see the project abandoned.
“The Kansas Logistics Park is a lot like planting a tree,” she said. “That tree will not bear fruit for years and years to come. There’s a lot of growth going on beneath that surface.”
Nickel would like to see the city re-examine how it spends its economic development dollars, but he also was concerned that cutting too much economic development funding could hurt the city’s growth in the future. He said Newton should be careful about compromising its image as a growing community.
There will be another budget work session at 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 22. The session is open to the public. The July 23 commission meeting will set the maximum spending limit, though a smaller budget still could be adopted.