City commissioners worked on the budget for the second time this summer at Tuesday’s work session. Much of the discussion revolved around a flat mill levy and what it actually means for residents of Manhattan, but discussions turned toward social services funding as well.
Commissioners Wynn Butler and John Matta previously said they would like to keep the mill levy as flat as possible. During the first budget work session, the finance department presented a 2013 budget that contained a 2.815 mill increase over this year’s budget. The department cut that down to a 2.251 mill levy increase in advance of Tuesday’s session.
Bernie Hayen, city finance director, said valuation in the city has increased markedly, largely due to new construction. Hayen also noted that the county makes annual appraisals of properties for market adjustments. In essence, increased property values can cause an increased tax bill regardless of a flat mill levy.
He also reiterated that property taxes related to city services under the control of the city manager have not gone up and in some years, have actually gone down.
Butler agreed that the mill levy is a “moving target,” but said the issue “is how do we keep people not spending more dollars this year?”
He suggested that the city figure out how much has to be removed from the budget so people pay no more in 2013 than this year. However, Commissioner Jim Sherow said it’s not so easy.
“Some people are going to pay more; some people are going to pay less regardless,” Sherow said.
Butler was undeterred, moving the discussion to specific line items in the budget that could be reduced or even eliminated.
“Are there more things here that can be eliminated?” Butler said. He postulated that the city’s travel budget might be reduced and cell phone allocations might be cut.
“I know those are minor, but when you add all that up, there might be some savings there,” Butler said.
Butler’s suggestions were met with some concern from Sherow, who was uneasy about eliminating specific line items. He said it’s the commissioners’ job to identify general areas where they believe reductions can be made and to let the city manager make those specific eliminations and reductions.
“I’m pretty impressed with some of the reductions,” Commissioner Rich Jankovich said. “At this point, I’m pretty happy with where we are.”
It wouldn’t be a budget discussion if social services funding wasn’t addressed, though.
Butler once again broached the subject of reducing funding for social services agencies. He suggested amending the resolution, which establishes the Social Services Advisory Board (SSAB) as the group responsible for making funding recommendations to the City Commission.
The proposal included putting a ceiling on social services funding, limiting and prioritizing the number of agencies funded and facilitating private funding through city supported efforts. Doing so, he said, “would cut the number of agencies supported, it would narrow the selection criteria.”
Jankovich was open to the idea but said the timing and growth of alternative, private funding mechanisms could be difficult. But he said there is value in establishing guidelines for the SSAB. Sherow was somewhat open to the idea, though he reminded Butler that the SSAB is strictly a “recommendations board” and the Commission has the option of rejecting its recommendations.
“I’m willing to look at it Wynn, but I’m saying let’s keep very much in mind how it operates now,” Sherow said.