Commissioner Leroy Koehn was looking at a worksheet for the 2019 city budget, and he was frustrated.
He saw that the city would need to raise around $718,000 to fund what was called a “baseline budget” along with adding three positions and funding external agency requests. And he kept thinking about how the commission had raised the mill levy the last two years.
“We have raised the mill levy eight mills in the past two years,” Koehn said. “Lets' say we raise three mills. That is 11 mills over the past three years and equates to $1.2 million. Does that 1.2 million start to pay for law enforcement center? No. Does it start to pay for pool renovations? No. Does it pay for new ball fields at Centennial Park? No.”
To fund an additional $718,000 without any modifications of the budget would require a 5.841 mills, while also spending a portion of reserve funds. The current mill levy is just about 60 mills. In additional funds are two law enforcement offiver positions, an inspector's position and external agency requests for Health Ministries ($40,000), the Chamber of Commerce ($30,00) and Grand Central ($25,000).
“Those external agency requests are vital,” Koehn said.
At the same time, he wanted to draw a line at a three mill increase — though a higher levy may be where the commission ends up.
Davis moved to publish a not-to-exceed budget of more than $52.64 million in expenditures and an approximate 5.841 increase to the mill levy. The commission can make cuts to the budget, but cannot go above that.
“I think we are going to have to be unpopular,” said commissioner Glen Davis. “I hate to say it, but we may need to raise six mills or we will be right back here. We may need to look at utility rates.”
“We need to get together and look at what we can take out,” Koehn said.
The commission will publish a budget notification, and notification of a public hearing, in The Newton Kansan. The hearing is tentatively set for July 24.
“I am anxious to hear from people on this, in a civil and constructive way,” said Commissioner Barth Hague. “ I would be very uncomfortable if we end up at that number, 5.81 mills. … What I keep thinking about is we can do things we can afford and squeeze in with a cash flow. Things like a library, that we have talked about for a decade or longer, or things like a police station, we are just not going to get to those. We just are not. As we increase taxes, we are taking the headroom out of it and we can't put those on a ballot. … I ache over that.
City Manager Bob Myers told the commission that it needs to find about $718,208 to fund the budget, along with enhancements and external agency requests, as presented.
“From that point, we can look at how we can get that number down. You can go back to your budget and cut some things out … Another way to reduce that number is to decide that in the next year we would not do some of those budget enhancements,” Myers said.
Those enhancements include an additional lieutenant for the police department, a part-time inspector and an additional drug detective position.
Also possible cuts would be funding for Health Ministries, the Chamber of Commerce and Grand Central.
“It will leave us with an 8 percent fund balance. Our policy states we should have a 15 percent fund balance,” Myers said. “ It is my suggestion that we do not worry about that. With the hope that with how we finish out this budget year and the next budget year we will finish higher than that on our fund balance.”
Myers also discussed transferring up to $375,000 from utility funds into the general fund.
“When we draw more funds out of those utilities, we are putting pressure on those utilities,” Myers said.
“We do not feel like we are done. We feel like this is a starting point,” Hauge said. “... This number may change.
In other business the commissioners:
• Presented the 2018 Yard of the Year Award to Edna Otto, 232 Wheatridge.
• Approved a special event request to close a portion of the parking lot between east fifth and sixth streets behind the Fox Theatre for The Gathering's “Splash Sunday” event July 15.
• Approved a temporary alcohol permit for a beer tent at the Harvey County Free Fair by The Barn restaurant in Burrton.
• Approved a bid from Unruh Excavating of Moundridge for Rolling Hills Sixth Addition grading. City staff negotiated the bid, as it came in above engineer estimates. Staff was able to negotiate a bid of $192,817, with the property developer paying more than $10,000 cash.
• Approved a proclamation of July 12 as Newton Teachers Day.
• Adopted the 2018 standard traffic ordinance and uniform public offense code.
• Approved an agreement to repair a newly installed gym floor at the Newton Recreation Center.