The Unified Government Commission approved a $432 million budget for 2023 on Thursday night, after spending much of the year in budget discussions.
The budget includes a 2 mill reduction on the county side, plus a quarter-mill shift from county funds to parks.
The budget passed 7-2 with Commissioners Gayle Townsend and Harold Johnson voting no. Mayor Tyrone Garner vetoed the city-county budget, but he was overridden on an 8-1 vote with Commissioner Tom Burroughs voting no.
While the Wyandotte County mill levy is reduced by 2 mills and the Kansas City, Kansas, city mill levy is flat, taxpayers should not expect a reduction in their property tax bills. Valuations have gone up throughout the county in the past year. The mill levies would have had to be reduced more to see a reduction in the dollar amount owned on property taxes for most taxpayers.
The UG makes up 46 percent of the property tax bill, according to UG officials. Also part of the total property tax bill are levies for school districts and Kansas City Kansas Community College. KCKCC and the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools boards both approved a flat or nearly flat mill levy.
The UG budget will keep a hefty amount in the fund balances – which is like a savings account for the local government.
Some of these reserves were being used to add last-minute items Thursday, including the reopening of the Fairfax fire station, estimated at upwards of $900,000. About $500,000 from reserves will go toward a County Initiative for Funding Infrastructure (CIFI).
The $3.1 million repair of the Kansas Avenue Bridge also was added Thursday and will come from ARPA funding, according to budget officials.
However, the UG Commission has been warned by consultants that it is on a trajectory to come up short in several years if it continues on a path of spending more than it receives in revenues.
“Everybody up here gave something up,” Commissioner Angela Markley said. It was a compromise and no one got everything he wanted, she said. She added the commission was lowering the mill rate by 2 mills, and it did not have authority over the valuations, which increased.
Interim County Administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee said they are at a crossroads, and this is a transitional budget. She called for more strategic planning and a change to a two-year budget. It will be necessary to identify what drives costs and to find cost savings.
Voting yes on the city and county mill levy were Commissioners Tom Burroughs, Melissa Bynum, Christian Ramirez, Mike Kane, Angela Markley, Chuck Stites and Andrew Davis. Voting no were Commissioners Harold Johnson and Gayle Townsend.
The UG will have to work hard in the next year to find areas of savings in the budget, according to Commissioner Melissa Bynum.
“My taxes are too high,”Commissioner Tom Burroughs said. He said the county budget could absorb more cuts than 2 mills, but they are choosing to spend. He said he did not want to have to come back and make cuts to services, and he didn’t want to find the UG in bankruptcy, either.
Commissioner Gayle Townsend voted against the budget. According to Commissioner Townsend, it was too expensive to reopen the Fairfax fire station, and she also could not support the 2 mill county reduction.
Commissioner Harold Johnson, who voted against the budget, said he was not comfortable with lowering the county mill levy 2 mills.
The UG is budgeting $432 million in expenses, compared to $418.7 million in income, “which to me is around a $13.3 million loss,” Commissioner Johnson said.
“I can tell you who’s uncomfortable,” Commissioner Chuck Stites said. “It’s the people out there struggling every day to pay their bills as we continue to raise taxes.”
The audience applauded, and Stites added that residents are finding it harder to buy their medications and pay for food. Stites was in favor of the 2 mill county reduction and the CIFI fund for infrastructure.
Although the county mill rate will be reduced 2 mills, some UG fees will go up this year. The sewer fees will go up 5 percent; the residential solid waste fee will go up 75 cents; and there is a 5 percent increase in the storm water utility fee.
There was no change to the 11.9 percent PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) fee on the Board of Public Utilities’ bills, which the UG sets.
Commissioner Andrew Davis, who made the motion for the city-county mill levy rate, added moving $105,000 from the mayor’s-commission’s contingency fund to a commission district line item. He said the commissioners only get $500 each a year to do community events in their districts, and these funds will be divided 10 ways for additional funding for commissioners. That idea passed.
Mayor Garner said the people who voted for him said “enough is enough” of raising taxes. Hard decisions have to be made on how to streamline this bloated government, he said.
“The people of Wyandotte County deserve better than this,” Mayor Garner said.
He said they need to find a way to put a pressure point on the tax burden in Wyandotte County. Economic development is a good pathway out, he said, and he applauded the interim county administrator for vision in putting together a strategic plan.
He said he has been told there is a lot of wasteful spending, and they need to see if that is real or just a perception. He supported “real tax relief” for the people of Wyandotte County.
Mayor Garner also vetoed the PILOT fee, but was overridden by the commission on an 8-1 vote with Burroughs voting no; and Garner also vetoed the increase in sewer charges, and was overridden by an 8-1 vote of the commission, with Burroughs voting no.
See earlier stories at http://www.wyandottedaily.com/public-hearing-on-ug-budget-to-be-monday-night/