Today’s public meetings

UG Public Works and Safety Committee to meet

Monday, Sept. 26, at 5 p.m. – Unified Government Public Works and Safety Committee will meet in the fifth floor conference room, Suite 512, at City Hall, 701 N. 7th St., Kansas City, Kansas. The meeting also will be on Zoom. The agenda includes an update on acceptance and a grant award from Cities and Counties for Fine and Fee Justice; an ordinance on the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones); a resolution authorizing a survey for the improvement to the Leavenworth Road and Hutton Road intersection project; a resolution authorizing a survey for the Bridge 311 reconstruction project over Barber Creek; amendment to the code on open burning; findings of a study for potential composting operations; the public works quarterly report; and an appearance by Christen Fornal-Higbee to discuss KCK animal services. The Zoom link is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84284722842?pwd=NEtab1NwazRzMGMzNHlxT1VhbVBTQT09. For more information, see https://www.wycokck.org/Departments/Clerks-Office/Agendas-Minutes.

UG Administration and Human Services Committee

Monday, Sept. 26, after the public works meeting – The Unified Government Administration and Human Services Committee will meet after the UG public works meeting. The meeting will be in the fifth floor conference room, Suite 512, City Hall, 701 N. 7th St., Kansas City, Kansas. It also will be virtually on Zoom. The agenda includes amending an ordinance related to emissions of odors; amending food establishment regulation and licensing; a proposal to support a regional electrical vehicle strategic plan; and participation in the Mid-America Regional Council grant to encourage the use of electric vehicles. The Zoom link is
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84284722842?pwd=NEtab1NwazRzMGMzNHlxT1VhbVBTQT09.

Interim administrator gives view of UG budget

Interim Administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee has given her perspective on the 2023 budget that passed the Unified Government Commission on Thursday, Sept. 15.

According to a UG spokesman, the budget went through an extensive public process and is one step in the “UG Forward” initiative that reimagines the UG for the enxt 25 years through a comprehensive assessment and reevaluation of operations. The $432 million budget addresses four priorities: invest in the streets; provide tax relief; foster innovation and resiliency; and invest in the parks.

“Change is hard and it takes time,” Harrison-Lee said. “The Unified Government is at a crossroads and the 2023 Budget represents a new day. While every issue cannot be solved within a single budget cycle, this budget process has taught us what it will take to protect the financial integrity of our organization.”

Twenty-five years ago, in April 1997, the people of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County, Kansas, voted to unify their local government with the promise of better coordination of operations and more efficient service delivery for our residents and businesses, all while achieving cost savings. To an extent, this goal has been realized—more than 20 mills have been cut from tax bills for Kansas City, Kansas, residents since unification and Wyandotte County continues to have one of the lowest county mill rates in the state, according to the UG.

With new leadership and emphasis on fiscal and organizational accountability and improvement, UG Forward is the initiative to structurally reimagine the organization for greater efficiency and better customer service. Following extensive community outreach and engagement, the following priorities were identified for the upcoming budget year, starting Jan. 1, 2023:

  1. “Invest in our streets: With 72% of the community ranking streets as the most important community service across all eight commission districts, a recurring theme in the biannual community survey. The 2023 budget includes an increase in the street preservation budget of 25% to a total allocation of $8.5M with a target of improving the Pavement Condition Index to a rating of 65 by 2038.
  2. “Provide tax relief: The county will benefit from a 2 mill reduction in the 2023 budget, the first county-side mill reduction since 2009. This will be a relatively nominal reduction for all county taxpayers, whether they live in Bonner Springs, Edwardsville, or Kansas City, KS, as the Unified Government only accounts for 46% the tax bill with other jurisdictions (community college, schools, state, etc.) making up the rest of the cost to taxpayers. This reduction will give taxpayers a savings of $41/year for residential properties valued at $150K and $267/year savings for commercial properties valued at $500K.
  3. “Foster innovation and resiliency: Through UG Forward, the Unified Government will continue its focus on tackling the challenges of working together as an organization with the goal of building organization-wide strategies to transform the way we operate. We will invest in capacity-building among our staff through better training, provide cost of living increases for union and non-union staff, look to increase our competitiveness as an employer, and foster a culture of excellence. To help the Unified Government stabilize its financial future, we must grow as a community. A consultant will soon be selected to develop an economic development strategic plan to help define an equitable path forward in our growth. The 2023 budget sets aside $7 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for future grant matches, enabling us to pursue more competitive federal funding to support our shared vision and goals.
  4. “Invest in our parks: A shift of a ¼ mill from the County General Fund to the Parks General Fund will enable the Unified Government to increase recreation programming, extend the hours of our community centers, and launch a city beautification pilot initiative. Throughout the budget process, the community expressed the desire to have better access to walking and biking trails, park equipment, and youth, adult and senior services while addressing blight.”

While the 2023 budget process may be wrapping up, this is the first of many future steps forward. The City General Fund, for example, has a structural deficit, expenditures exceed revenue, so additional strategic financial planning is needed to establish long-term sustainability.

“We are charting a path forward that focuses on our residents first and embraces proven best practices by implementing a structural reimagining of the Unified Government,” Harrison-Lee said. “One thing is clear to me from my time as Interim County Administrator – Wyandotte County residents are uniquely ‘Dotte,’ with an irreplicable hometown pride, and there are no challenges we cannot overcome.”

Harrison-Lee outlined several action items as next steps to continue laying the foundation during this transition period. Mayor Tyrone Garner has convened a community search committee as part of the process to hire a permanent county administrator. Over the next several months, work will continue on the organizational assessment and realignment, implementing several “low hanging fruit” recommendations from the consultant teams, training and collaborating with staff and community for continuous improvement.

To read the county administrator’s budget message, including recommended next steps now that the budget has been adopted, visit https://www.wycokck.org/Engage-With-Us/News-articles/2023-Proposed-Budget-for-Review.

To learn more about the ongoing organizational assessments and other work underway, visit wycokck.org/UGForward.

To see an earlier story about the budget, visit http://www.wyandottedaily.com/ug-commission-approves-432-million-budget/.

The meeting is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbjOWC4Au5U.

UG Commission approves $432 million budget

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/
http://www.wyandottedaily.com/ug-commission-overrides-mayors-veto-on-revenue-neutral-resolution-as-wyandotte-county-residents-plead-for-lower-taxes/