Commission passes not-quite-flat mill levy 3-2

By Tim Weideman

The city commission adopted its 2015 budget on Tuesday despite Mayor Wynn Butler and Commissioner John Matta sticking to their guns on aiming for a flat mill levy.

The 2015 budget is $134.13 million with a mill levy of 43.942 mills, an increase of $3.34 million and 0.518 mills from 2014.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to adopt the budget, with Butler and Matta opposing the measure.

“I think people see us spending a lot of money,” Matta said, adding that the funds were well-spent on items such as salary increases. “But I think we can still hold this flat.”

A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value.

Considering the average home valuation has increased 2.3 percent, a homeowner paying $499.38 in city taxes for a $100,000 house in 2014 would pay $516.96 for a $102,300 house in 2015.

If the mill levy remained flat, then the owner of a $102,300 house would pay $510.86 in city taxes.

However, Commissioner Usha Reddi said the commission needs to take care when shooting for a flat mill levy.

“I think we have cut where we needed to cut,” she said. “If we continue to go on this path, it’s going to increase at some point.”

Commissioner Karen McCulloh also was worried by the flat-rate focus.

“I am concerned that there are a number of things we are not keeping up with — road maintenance, things like that,” she said.

Butler took issue with that statement.

“I see a flat mill levy a little bit differently than perhaps Commissioner McCulloh does,” he said. “I don’t see it as a step backwards. I mean, clearly, what we have is growth in the community. We have economic development in the community.

“We’re going to end up bringing in more money,” Butler added. “So, therefore, it’s not necessary every year to say that every year you have to raise taxes.”

Butler also contended that a flat mill levy rate wouldn’t prevent the city from maintaining its roads.

Butler told the rest of the commission that he’d rather table the discussion until city staff could provide a list of what would need to be cut to achieve a flat mill levy.

Commissioner Rich Jankovich said it’s a little too late to wait.

“That would have been perfect two weeks ago for today, or two months ago,” he said. “But really, we’ve kind of hit the point where we’ve hit the wall.”

Commissioners also unanimously approved four 2015 budget-related items on Tuesday:

• A stormwater fee increase to 4 percent in 2015, as opposed to 3 percent in 2014.

Residential and commercial properties are charged differently under the current fee structure.

Residential properties are charged a flat fee per month as part of the utility bill. That fee will go from $4.42 to $4.60.

Commercial properties are charged based on the surface area of the property that contributes to stormwater runoff.

Fees for a business with less than 20,000 square feet in runoff surface area will go from $7.18 per month to $7.46 per month.

The increase is intended to provide sufficient funding for stormwater projects.

• Admission price increases at Sunset Zoo and increases to the Flint Hills Discovery Center program and membership fees.

The increases are expected to provide additional funds.

• Changes to an agreement with the firefighters’ union, Local 2275 of the International Association of Firefighters.

After a salary study in February, the city agreed to move personnel closer to the average annual wage and to implement an annual step system.

The proposal calls for firefighters to receive a 1.7-percent cost-of-living adjustment, which is in line with what other city workers get.

The promotion system for firefighters, job titles and time between promotions and raises were also changed.

The city is budgeting an overall wage increase of 3.7 percent.

• The first reading of the 2015 salary ordinance, which contains a 1.7-percent cost-of-living adjustment. It also includes a 2-percent step increase.

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