The Unified Government Commission will meet tonight to approve the UG budget, and also to discuss COVID and extending the mask mandate.
A special session will begin at 6 p.m. tonight, Sept. 9, for a COVID update. The meeting will be on Zoom, on YouTube, on UGTV cable television, and is also accessible by telephone. In addition, the public may view the meeting from the lobby of City Hall.
At 7 p.m. tonight, the UG Commission is scheduled to meet, and on the agenda are several items, including extending the emergency order for the COVID pandemic until Dec. 16, and extending the mask mandate until Nov. 18. The mask order now in effect is scheduled to expire on Sept. 16.
The UG Commission also is scheduled to vote on the UG budget at 7 p.m. tonight. A $420 million budget is proposed.
Commission voted to exceed revenue neutral rate
At the budget hearing on Tuesday night, Sept. 7, the UG Commission discussed budget issues including whether to lower the property tax rate and the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) rate on the Board of Public Utilities’ bills.
The only person who made a statement during the public comment segment at the budget hearing Tuesday night was Murrel Bland, executive director of Business West, who said the organization hoped the increase in valuation can finally mean property tax relief. It’s important to increase the tax base and not the tax rate, he said.
The UG administrator’s proposed budget is a flat mill levy rate, no change from last year for the city and county mill levies. The Kansas City, Kansas, mill levy rate is 38.47 mills and the county mill levy rate is 39.327 mills.
On Tuesday night, the UG Commission voted 7-2 to exceed the revenue neutral rate, which allows the UG to go over the amount they spent last year.
As explained at the meeting by Kathleen VonAchen, UG chief financial officer, the hearing on the revenue neutral rate was the result of state legislation to increase transparency about municipal revenues.
The revenue neutral rate compares revenues from the previous tax year to this tax year. In Wyandotte County, property values have increased over the past year, and also new development has been added here, resulting in more revenues that would come to the UG if the property tax rate stays the same as last year, she said.
Voting no on exceeding the revenue neutral rate Tuesday night were Commissioners Jim Walters and Tom Burroughs.
The commission did not vote on the mill levy on Tuesday night, but during discussion, three commissioners, Walters, Burroughs and Melissa Bynum, indicated they were in favor of lowering the mill levy this year. A one-mill or half-mill drop was mentioned.
“Residential homeowners in Wyandotte County will experience an 8 percent tax increase this year if we do not do anything to adjust the mill levy,” Commissioner Walters said.
He said it appeared to him that most of the increased revenue from residential taxpayers would be going to the reserves. He suggested using the reserves for a tax cut.
Other commissioners pointed out that the 8 percent figure only applied to their part of the tax bill, not to other taxing entities.
Commissioner Melissa Bynum supported Commissioner Walters’ call for an opportunity to make at least a 1 mill lowering of the mill levy rate.
Commissioner Burroughs mentioned that while the city’s mill levy rate has dropped considerably during the past few years, the county’s rate has gone up. Valuation has gone up, and the PILOT fee has gone up, too, he said. He also mentioned the American Rescue Plan Act funds the UG has received. The UG will receive $87 million over two years from the federal government, with much of it going to replace lost revenues in the local budget.
“I believe the budget could absorb the mill cut we discussed,” Commissioner Burroughs said. The cut under discussion would have been to the county mill levy.
Commissioner Burroughs said this has been a very trying year for a number of people in the community who have struggled to get through it, many lost jobs, and many needed rent and utility assistance.
“I believe the timing is right,” he said. “It demonstrates good will by the leadership of Wyandotte County to understand the challenges they have had this year with their finances. I’m supportive of continuing the discussion about lowering the mill levy.”
However, several other commissioners and Mayor David Alvey did not support a reduction in the mill levy this year.
Commissioner Christian Ramirez, while agreeing that the mill rate needs to be lowered, said he doesn’t believe they’re at the perfect time for it yet. Things may be good at the moment, but they don’t know what will happen next year – it’s all unknown, he said. Because of COVID and the pandemic, they don’t know what next year will look like, according to Ramirez.
Commissioner Mike Kane said he didn’t have a crystal ball, but he was here when the commission one year lowered the mill levy, then had to raise it the next year.
“We’re still in a pandemic,” Commissioner Kane said. They don’t know what the future holds and don’t want to put more stress on the budget, he said. He said the UG Commission should start discussing a possible tax cut next January.
Commissioner Jane Philbrook sided with Commissioners Ramirez and Kane, and said she doesn’t know what the future would hold. She said they should concentrate this year on taking care of the infrastructure, such as roads.
Commissioner Brian McKiernan agreed with Commissioner Philbrook, and said it’s time to start digging out from the deterioration of the infrastructure, and improve roads, curbs, sidewalks, sewers and infrastructure.
Commissioner Burroughs said $2 million would not make that much of a difference in infrastructure, and they should figure out how to cut expenses of $2 million out of a $420 million budget. “We have enough reserves to absorb this,” he said.
He warned that the tax burden could become so great that it would create another cycle of poverty.
Mayor Alvey said he receives calls from people about clogged culverts, sidewalk and road repairs, and water running through their yards.
He added it was a hard conversation to have with people and tell them the UG is not generating enough revenue do to that. The UG has been trying not to borrow as much money as it has in the past to keep the debt service down. Compared to Lenexa in Johnson County, operation costs of the UG were about the same, he said. However, in Lenexa, developers were required to install infrastructure and because it was a younger city, it did not have the same level of maintenance costs as Wyandotte County. The mill levy there was lower because their valuations were higher, the mayor said.
He agreed that better infrastructure and lower taxes were needed, with a long-term solution needed, and said the infrastructure is on the point of failure.
Commissioner Harold Johnson said on Tuesday night that the UG’s portion of the local tax bill is less than half.
“The decisions we make need to be done in conjunction with our taxing counterparts strategically, not in competition or critique of one another,” he said.
The discussion about lowering the mill levy needs to be a full-throated conversation across all taxing jurisdictions, and it needs to be long-term, not in the moment, Johnson said.
Other items on the Sept. 9 agenda
Also on the 7 p.m. Sept. 9 agenda:
• A public hearing on creating the Legends Hotel Community Improvement District.
• A request for honorary street signs for Pandarama Preschools on Nebraska Avenue between 7th and 8th streets;
• Agreements between the UG and Turner and Piper school districts for school resource officers;
• Acquiring property for Safe Routes to Schools near Carl Bruce Middle School and Caruthers Elementary School;
• A resolution allowing the Colonial Club to furnish alcohol and allow patrons to drink and consume alcohol on North 6th Street, in front of the Colonial Club, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sept. 11.
The Zoom link for the 6 p.m. meeting Sept. 9 is at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87570007778?pwd=UHRGMFV4S2NLaEk3bmZnK2oxeWlyUT09.
The passcode is 429488. The Webinar ID is 875 7000 7778.
The Zoom link for the 7 p.m. meeting is at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83840023799?pwd=dXdPUW00dFVoQ2MxakZHaXJxWDRPQT09.
The passcode is 024488. The webinar ID is 838 4002 3799.
For information about connecting to tonight’s UG meetings, visit https://www.wycokck.org/Departments/Clerks-Office/BOC-Virtual-Meeting.
UG budget information is at https://www.wycokck.org/Departments/Finance/Budget.
A video of the Sept. 7 UG hearings is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdXnIH5DEME
To see some past UG budget stories, visit http://www.wyandottedaily.com/ug-tax-cut-appears-unlikely-at-this-time/ and