Corbin H. Crable
The city would have to lay off multiple staff members next year if the Gardner City Council were to reject a 6.5 mill increase and additional line item cuts from the 2011 budget, according to City Administrator Stewart Fairburn.
Council member Brian Broxterman admitted that the governing body must ask “difficult questions” of a budget described by Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta as “striving for adequacy” before asking how a steady mill rate and no further budge cuts would affect staffing levels. Fairburn told Broxterman that the city would have to enact a reduction in force that would result in the termination of “13 or 14” employees. All told, the city must trim $850,000 from the General Fund to make up for a shortfall in the city’s Bond and Interest Fund. The B&I shortfall is due in large part to delinquencies on special assessments, Assistant City Administrator Melissa Mundt told council members at an earlier budget meeting.
The council instead will discuss a 4.5 mill rate increase for 2011 at a public hearing next week. The public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2, at City Hall, 120 E. Main St.
While council members generally seemed to approve of a 4.5 increase instead of a 6.5 increase for 2011, Drovetta reminded them that the mill rate increase for 2012 would then be greater.
“It’s delaying the inevitable,” he told council members. “Whether we raise it 4 or 6 mills, we’re still raising it.”
Fairburn also told council members that the city is hopeful that its end-of-year fund balance as a percentage of its expenses can remain steady at 25 percent.
“I’d recommend that we keep the fund balance there as a safety cushion in case things get nastier,” he said.
Fairburn said the city’s goal is to get that figure up to 40 percent.
“Then we’ll be in a good position,” he said.
In general, Fairburn said, cities try to keep their fund balance percentage above 10 percent; anything lower than that would adversely affect the city’s credit rating.
Fairburn, at Monday night’s meeting, gave council members several options in further cutting expenses, including delaying maintenance on aging city vehicles, as well as delaying purchases of new vehicles for city departments. Those savings would come to $119,000.
Other options to save money include doing work in-house instead of contracting it out. Doing in-house, seasonal work on codes administration and public works would save an estimated $20,000. Fairburn also said the city could save an estimated $13,000 on delaying maintenance on parks trails, but that he did not recommend going that route since such maintenance has already been delayed.
Also possible are cuts to funding for Gardner Community Theatre, Gardner Cemetery and the Gardner Historical Museum.
“(Funding for the museum) goes toward the paydown of its debt,” Fairburn told the council. “It does not go toward their operations.”
Drovetta told council members that trimming funding to the cemetery, from $10,000 to $7,500, may be a painful but needed step.
“From a legal obligation standpoint, it’s something we don’t have to do,”
Drovetta said of cemetery funding from the city.
Council members eventually agreed to cut a one-time merit payment to city employees from $50,000 to $24,000 – roughly $300 per employee per year.
But that was a rise in what council members originally discussed at the beginning of the meeting. Originally, council members discussed lowering that payment to $16,000 per year, or $200 per employee.
“I am in favor of some type of one-time payment,” Council President Todd Winters said. “Maybe not $50,000, but even $200 would help.”
Council member Kristy Harrison noted that there are currently 18 city employees who are making 100 percent of their pay range; she suggested taking the merit raises those employees would receive and disbursing it between any employees who make less than 50 percent of the maximum amount in their pay range.
“The amount of money (those employees would receive) isn’t worth it,” Fairburn told Harrison. “But I’ll give you my (merit increase). I have no problem with that.”
Drovetta argued against a lower mill increase, saying city services to residents would be affected by the decision.
“If we set the bar too low, we’d reduce the quality of services for those who can least afford it,” he said. “It’s a give-and-take.”
The council will vote on the 2011 budget on Aug. 16; the budget then must be submitted to the Kansas Secretary of State by Aug. 25. For more information on the Aug. 2 public hearing, visit the city’s website at www.gardnerkansas.gov.