April 17, 2014

Council meeting devolves into argument

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com

The Gardner City Council didn’t close in quite the traditional fashion on June 20.

Instead, three council members left the meeting as an argument broke out between the mayor and one council member.

“That’s bull——,” Mayor Dave Drovetta told council member Larry Fotovich. By the end of the argument, Drovetta stood inches from Fotovich near his council seat.

A discussion about employee health benefits lead to the heated exchange. And specifically, an analogy Fotovich used to reason why many city employees select HMOs, a healthplan with additional costs to the city, rather than High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) with Health Savings Accounts.

Fotovich explained if the city were running a restaurant and offered to buy diners a bottle of wine and then offered them a $100 bottle and a $20 bottle, the diners would choose the $100 bottle. The HDHP is like the $20 bottle of wine. That wine might taste just as good as the $100 bottle, but most diners wouldn’t know, because they’d take the higher priced bottle.

The analogy upset city human resources manager Mary Bush.

“I’m offended,” she said in a shaky voice.

She said she deals with the employees everyday, and that limiting their health care options to only high deductible health plans would have a dramatic effect on the employees.

Council member Fotovich responded that he’s trying to find ways to limit costs to the taxpayers – many of whom have HDHP themselves.

Drovetta said it’s not the council’s job to make healthcare decisions for citizens of the city and he agreed that Fotovich’s analogy was offensive.

The debate came at the end of a three-plus hour meeting. As Drovetta and Fotovich talked over one another council members Kristina Harrison, Brian Broxterman and Dennis Pugh gathered their things and left the meeting room.

Terry Norwood, CEO of Midwest Public Risk (MPR), said the city could reduce its healthcare costs in a number of ways. Currently, the city pays 80 percent of an employees’ healthcare costs for an individual plan and 85 percent of the cost of a family plan. Employees have the option of selecting one of two HMO plans, two-tiers of PPO or a HDHP with a Health Savings Account.

Kelly Kilgore, also of MPR, said some entities have opted not to offer HMOs to their employees.

“The High Deductible Health Plan is gaining in popularity,” she said.

In a high deductible plan, employees must pay a $6,000 deductible before any medical expenses are covered through insurance. Employees can funnel money tax-free into a health savings plan that rolls over each year and follows the employee in the event that they change jobs.

Kilgore said the plan can be beneficial for young, healthy people and the chronically ill. It allows healthier employees to build up a savings account and chronically ill employees the knowledge of a fixed amount they’ll need to spend on medical bills each year.

Fotovich inquired about potentially offering incentives to employees to take a HDHP before the meeting devolved.

The final moments of the meeting weren’t the only heated ones. There were also tense moments between council member Chris Morrow and the mayor after Morrow asked a series of questions related to a proposed 2012 budget item to spend $75,000 on a consultant to update the city’s comprehensive plan.

He and council member Fotovich questioned the value of a plan – updated in 2003 and and originated in 1996 – that hasn’t been followed.

Interim city administrator Melissa Mundt said the task of a comprehensive update is too big for the Community Development Department, which saw several staff planning positions cut in 2010.

Morrow said even when the city had several planners on staff, the city used consultants to update the comprehensive plan.

“We used (a planner) who had all the correct acronyms. We had extra planners, and as Larry (Fotovich) pointed out, the plan hasn’t gone according to plan,” Morrow said.
Drovetta told Morrow that staff wasn’t making up the need to hire a consultant.

“You were implying that we should be able to do that with contractors. If they could do that, staff would’ve. I don’t think there’s anyone up here capable of doing this. This is what cities do,” Drovetta said of the proposed update.

“I understand this is what city’s do. I understand that,” Morrow said. “I realize governance is ongoing. I don’t need a lecture on that.”

According to future budget estimates, the city’s budget will be short more than $600,000 in 2015. The 2012 budget proposal uses some of the city’s reserves, leaving three-month’s worth of expenditures in savings.

“What I’m looking for is careful consideration of everyone up here of the short fall that we’re going to have,” Morrow said. “…We need more than a three-months’ war chest. I don’t think it’s too much for somebody, and in this case it’s me, to ask if there are other ways we can do (a comprehensive plan update).”

Interim city administrator Melissa Mundt said council would have plenty of time to debate hiring a consultant before the budget is approved in August.

“I don’t need a decision tonight,” she said. “It’s built into next year’s budget.”

In other business:

• Council members approved a conditional use permit for Faith Chapel Gardner Campus Community Services to use Jazzercise space to conduct worship services. The planning commission and staff recommended that the conditional use permit be allowed with the stipulation that church capacity would be limited to 120 people and services and events take place between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. The church anticipates hosting Saturday evening services.

• Council members passed an ordinance that levies special tax assessments on lots, homes and parcels of land in the Prairiebrooke Benefit District.

• Council members met in executive session for 35 minutes.

Comments

  1. Not accurate says:

    This story/headline is not entirely accurate. The council meeting had been properly adjourned. At the time the meeting ended, council was in a work session. No adjournment, voted or otherwise, was necessary.

  2. GardnerPride says:

    I’ll be anxious to see how this council moves forward. I think that disagreement and contention can lead to resolution, but that doesn’t remove the fact that the council must work together for the benefit of the citizens of Gardner.

  3. GardnerPride says:

    I also have to wonder if it’s appropriate for the council to make decisions on a healthcare program in which they won’t participate. It’s easy to cut cost costs / reduce care when it’s not your family that will be affected.

  4. GardnerCitizen says:

    It’s great to see at least two council members stand up and voice their opinion on behalf of the city. We need more council members like Mr. Fotovich and Mr. Morrow. As for Gardner’s Mayor Dave Drovetta abrassive leadership style toward coucil members; there’s NO place for that attitude as an ELECTED official.

  5. Who's Offensive? says:

    Drovetta, you called Fotovich’s analogy offensive, really? What about your language, Mr. Mayor???

  6. Watch your back says:

    Watch your back Mr. Fotovich; you might find Daddy Dave contributing to have you recalled. Ethics are not in his vocabulary.

  7. Morrow and Fotovich are doing the jobs for which they were elected and I could not be more proud of them and so thankful for all of the Gardner citizens. Finally, finally there are two people who are doing what they supposed to be doing and being fiscally responsible – when was the last time we have seen that??? I have lived here in Gardner since 1994 and this is the first time I have seen the status quo actually be confronted and the present day Dictator challenged as he well should be.

    I just spoke to Mary Bush, Human Resources Mgr. with the City of Gardner. She gave me the following health care costs that the citizens are PRESENTLY paying.

    29 Employees have individual coverage only which costs monthly for each employee $366.30 with a monthly total of $10,622.70 and yearly cost of $127,472.40 to the taxpayers.

    22 Employees have individual and spouse OR children coverage which costs monthly for each employee of $763.20 with a monthly total of $16,790.40 and yearly cost of $201,484.80 to the taxpayers.

    44 Employees have individual, spouse AND children coverage which costs monthly for each employee of $862.40 with a monthly total of $37,945.60 and yearly cost of $455,347.20

    We then have vision coverage with the following costs:

    23 Employees with individual coverage at a cost of $6.30, a monthly total of $144.90 and yearly cost of $1,738.80.

    23 Employees with individual and spouse OR children at a cost of $10.40, a monthly cost of $239.20 and yearly cost of $2,870.40

    39 Employees with individual, spouse AND children at a cost of $15.20, a monthly cost of $592.80 and yearly cost of $7,113.60.

    GRAND TOTAL OF $796,027.20 OVER THREE QUARTERS OF A MILLION DOLLARS THE TAXPAYERS PAY FOR HEALTH CARE BENEFITS FOR CITY EMPLOYEES.

    Mary Bush did advise there are two open positions that could be filled which would increase the total cost. Please note how many more dollars married people are getting in health care dollars than the single individuals – a single individual gets $366.30 and a married employee with kids which creates many more costs a total of $862.40 – a difference of $496.10. Would it not be more fair to all employees to give each employee $400 a month to spend for health care and then if the costs are higher, they would have to make up the difference.

    I can’t even believe GardnerPride would say he didn’t think the Council should be making health care insurance cost decisions – give me a break!!!! They most certainly should and they better be looking for ways to cut costs. I want health care for employees but I also know the taxpayer can only bear so much. All parties need to be looking at this issue very seriously and working together to respect the needs of all parties involved.

    I was also advised it was brought out in the meeting last night that the city had NOT taken sealed bids on the employee health care insurance plan FOR 22 YEARS. Mary Bush is checking to see if this is correct and will advise me. If this information is correct, then Drovetta and his status quo government, which includes the bureaucrats, need to be hung by their heels in my opinion.

    We have no money – our revenue is not meeting what the city government continues to want to spend. We have a huge debt as a result of spending at will and using the credit card. This is a huge problem that has to be addressed and costs do need to cut. If we continue to go down the same path, we could have employees losing their jobs AND their health care benefits – is that what they want???? Fiscal responsibility has to come to the table and our problems will continue to grow and adverse affects will escalate if that responsbility is not in place.

    Here is an article I sent to the Council, Mayor and a few others in the last few days. Our cronyism government has allowed the monsters (including the corporate, Wall St. and banking thieves) to grow and citzens are to blame also for not doing their jobs.

    *****************************************************************

    A perk that can make a taxpayer sick
    By Daily Herald Editorial Board

    Charles Gilbert warned local governments 20 years ago that policies like paying out for sick pay would cause financial hardships.

    But it was the early 1990s when he wrote a study with two other Western Illinois University colleagues — long before the Great Recession forced all of us to look at these types of perks with a jaundiced eye.

    It’s 2011 now and no longer can public perks like this be tolerated. Make all the excuses you want — public employees, employers and elected officials have plenty — it just isn’t right to use taxpayers’ money in this way.

    “This isn’t a new concern and it’s a big deal,” Gilbert told Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin. Sick days, he said, are “a benefit meant to be there if you needed it. That’s all it is. You did not earn a payout.”

    And that’s how sick days should be viewed, not as an opportunity to earn extra compensation. Yet, as Griffin reported, some suburban municipalities do pay out for sick days not used. Naperville, for example, spent more than $1 million in sick-day payouts deposited into a “health savings account” for 45 retirees in 2010. Schaumburg contributed $200,000 for such accounts for eight retirees in 2010.

    Naperville Councilman Grant Wehrli sees the folly in what that community is doing. “I’m all for people getting sick days, but it’s not a retirement plan. When you have to pay over a million dollars a year in sick-day payouts, we can’t continue that practice.”

    They sure can’t. Naperville is considering changes that would significantly reduce the maximum amount of credit from its current 90 days.

    That compares to Mundelein, which pays for up to 125 unused sick days and Geneva, which pays a maximum of 60.

    But why pay at all? If employees complain, all they have to do is look to the private sector to see that it’s a perk not afforded to most people.

    According to a 2010 study by WorldAtWork, a global human resources association, about 80 percent of companies do not pay out unused sick time when an employee leaves or retires. 80 percent.

    How can this be justified in the public sector? Griffin quoted a benefits spokesman for the Chicago chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who tried to argue that it’s “earned compensation.”

    “The taxpayer shouldn’t care where the money goes,” said Hank Scheff, director of research and benefits. “(Workers) earn the money; it’s not the taxpayer’s money. That compensation they earned is their money. It’s another dollar in the compensation package.”

    It’s time to change those benefits and compensation packages moving forward. Union and elected officials who make these agreements need to understand that all the money they dole out is indeed taxpayer money. And we and taxpayers do care how it’s spent.

  8. I also want to address the benefit district that was approved by the Council last evening. I cannot believe the Council is putting the citizens on the line in this manner. The developer is getting low cost financing for his development costs by use of this benefit district just like Licausi did at 183rd & Center and he can’t even mow his weeds and defrauds the taxpayers, in my opinion, by stating his property is being used for agriculture resulting in taxes of about $8 a year so we lose even more tax revenue. These developers are thieves in my opinion and we have politicians (Fotovich voted against it) who bankroll them every day of the week while putting the citizens at risk of having to pay these costs if the developer defaults. I will remind you again the Treasurer’s Office has advised me developers in Leawood will pay the assessment portion of their tax bill but aren’t paying their taxes – how in the Sam Hill is that helping the citizens? Is that what community development is and Drovetta wants to spend another $75,000 to pay to a useless consultant for a “new” plan and they haven’t followed the last plan. No Council, Mayor or city employees need to be putting me on the line to possibly getting stuck with paying developer costs and I don’t appreciate having that benefit district cost being added to our city debt amount. I don’t appreciate any of that kind of wheeling and dealing. Those developers are welcome as long as their projects will not adversely affect the citizens in some way but they need to get their own loans and be responsible for them – they don’t need to get me involved and put me at risk of paying their bills.

  9. DD can you hear us? says:

    My company switched to an HSA four years ago. At the time I was unhappy with the plan because it seemed that I would be paying a lot more for healthcare. Then I noticed a few things.
    1. I don’t go to the doctor that much
    2. If my company had not cut costs on healthcare and in other areas they would have laid off me and some of my co-workers. We’re all happy to still have jobs
    3. When my friend’s baby was born premature and sick and spent the first 30 days in the NICU my friend and her family only had to pay the deductable of $5,000. After that all the healthcare for their family was free for the rest of the year. If they had the traditional plan our company offered prior to the HSA they would have been responsible for 20% of the baby’s bill (their portion would have been more than $25,000). They actually SAVED a lot because of the new plan.
    4. All of the hypochondriacs seem to go to the doctor a lot less because they have to spend their own money, not the insurance company’s money. When you spend your own cash suddenly your hang nail doesn’t seem like it is worthy of an emergency room visit.

  10. Expletive Deleted says:

    Cursing at a council meeting and leaving his seat, as mayor, to confront a councilman toe to toe? What is wrong with this mayor? It sounds as if his behavior at the end of this meeting was better suited for the Maury Povich show, or MTV’s Jersey Shore. I am embarrassed for him and our community because of him.

  11. Flood of stupid says:

    Gardner Pride has once again demonstrated his sheer stupidity.
    ” I also have to wonder if it’s appropriate for the council to make decisions on a healthcare program in which they won’t participate. It’s easy to cut cost costs / reduce care when it’s not your family that will be affected.”

    I don’t know where you work, but in my job the board of directors decide what healthcare they’ll offer. No one asks me, and I certainly don’t have the opportunity to get self-righteous like Mary Bush and act indignant when I don’t care for the way they reach a decision.

    Like many in the private sector, I have a high deductible plan with a HSA. I don’t love it, but when that’s what the company said it was offering (without giving me the opportunity to go Mary Bush on them) I could take it or leave.

    This city’s spending (and behavior! Cussing in a public meeting Mr. Mayor) is an embarrassment to our community.

  12. If the last time the city bid out their insurance was 22 years ago, I think that is a concern. I understand it is a HUGE hassle to switch, but like Judith said we have no money, all avenues should be exhausted. Our company of 130 employees bid out their insurance a couple of years ago. Every person in the company had to fill out information on their health history and we put it out to bid against different insurance companies. From what I hear we saved a ton of money and locked in our rates for a couple of years. I’m sure after those years are up we’ll go through the hassle of filling out forms again and bid it out, but the money it will save will be worth it to the company.

    Thus you have the difference between government and companies trying to turn a profit.

  13. GardnerPride says:

    To Stupid:

    Where I work, the decision on healthcare was made by individuals who would participate in the program, and have a vested interest in it’s value as a policy holder. I only question whether a council burdened with reducing an already crippled budget will make a decision based only on the bottom line, and not taking into consideration our City Employees. Forgive me if I think that is a fair question, especially considering that they won’t feel the pain and/or benefit of such a decision.

    I’m glad to hear that “DD can you hear us” has had a good experience with these sort of healthcare plans. As I researched this a bit further following the article, there are dozens of other articles written about individuals that haven’t been as fortunate. At first glance, these sort of plans are very effective at reducing budget costs, and work well for young healthy inidividuals, but can be difficult to manage for those that need more regular healthcare.

    If it’s true that our insurance program has not been sent out for bid in the past 22 years, then that is beyond irresponsible, and both the HR Director and City Administrator and staff should be held accountible. Perhaps that should have been Mr. Fotovich’s first question. “When was the last time our healthcare costs were sent out for bid?” I would assume that we would have agencies lined up for the opportunity to earn our business.

  14. Whatever Judith says:

    I agree health care is a big issue but its just the price of doing business! Every business has these issues but generally a board of directors and the company pays the difference based on profits but city’s rely on tax dollars to operate. How would you like it if your ability to choose was taken from you or you had to decide if an injury was worth going to the doctor for. If I had to pay the first $6000 for medical before coverage would begin Id have to move or quit my job and go on welfare or file bankruptcy. It’s not that big a deal if you don’t have a family but its a fact of life when you have a family you go to the doctor more kids get hurt, women have more issues then men so you spend more time and money. Maybe the solution is the city shut down and all the employees go on welfare and unemployment surrender their houses to foreclosure and leave you with the bill. Come on people business is business its ok to be conservative we all have to be but I urge you to pull any financial record from any corporation and look at what the employee pays for benefits vs what the corporation pays then tell me if your being realistic.

  15. Mary Bush has only worked for the city of Gardner for two or three years – she is not the one to hit for not putting the health care plan up for bids in my opinion but you would need to talk to her on that. Mary has always been most helpful to me the two or three times I have called her for information and I do appreciate her customer service, however, I think she may not be seeing the whole picture on health care from the viewpoint of all parties concerned when she made her comment at the Council Meeting.

    The Council should be working for all citizens which includes the city employees, however, it would be interesting to know how many of the employees live in Gardner – I don’t believe most of the administrative staff do. I don’t believe any Council member is wanting to take a baseball bat to any employee’s knees. The rotten financial shape we are in is due to lack of fiscal responsibility over a long period of time and cronyism government in my estimation. City government, elected officials and citizens all need to work together to SOLVE PROBLEMS – not create more or to only govern for special interests. Dictator Dave better get that thru his hard head if we are to survive and have any kind of quality of life. I want him out of office and hope the people will be smart enough to get that job done in an upcoming election if he has the audacity to run again.

    It is my understanding there are other items and information that have not been given to the people that occurred in that meeting. It is absolutely essential that videotaping of all city meetings be put into the next budget and I expect that to be done whether Dictator Dave likes it or not. Open and clear communication is essential for a transparent government to be in place and citizens better have that important protection – citizens have to be informed and educated on important issues so they may make the very best choices at the voting booth and to keep their government costs held in check and elected officals and employees held accountable.

  16. Whatever Judith says:

    Again Judith it seems it is always about what you want isn’t it? Are you even reading what you post prior to posting it? “The rotten financial shape we are in is due to lack of fiscal responsibility over a long period of time and cronyism government in my estimation” then you turn right around and say “It is absolutely essential that videotaping of all city meetings be put into the next budget and I expect that to be done whether Dictator Dave likes it or not” So your against Health care but for laziness….You’d rather have people cut health care but add video. That is crazy they estimated adding video would cost too much money and that was the only thing I agree with Fotovich on. If the citizens want to see the meetings they can get up off the couch and go attend.

  17. GardnerPride says:

    It’s unfortunate that Gardner doesn’t have a local cable channel that could televise the Council meetings throughout the week. I know that works very well in other small towns in the area, and I don’t believe it falls on the city budget in most cases. I agree with Judith that the meetings should be podcast in some respect. My only concern is that the cost would not equal the viewers. When we do put something in place, and I truly believe we will, we need to make tracking a priority. If we spend $1000-$5000 per year on broadcasting a meeting that is then viewed by a small handfull of individuals, is it money well spent. You won’t know until you try though, and it’s essential that we try.

  18. I just spoke to Mr. Fotovich who advised he is not adverse to videotaping of city meetings and even went so far to say if we are going to do it, to not go with audio only but to do the full video which is certainly what is needed and he made that clear at the last work session. These different stories reinterate, once again, the need of videotaping of meetings – you wouldn’t have this he says, she says crap – it would all be there for you to see in living color.

  19. MY OPINION says:

    So Judith, you opened your purse and spoke to Mr. Fotovich ? Are those your words or did you remove your hand from your puppets backside and let him speak on his own. I read these arguments over pennies when we should be looking at the dollars. It is a good thing these people are in government because I don’t think any of them could run a business successfully. Time will tell but I will bet you a dollar against a donut hole that even your pet Mr. Fotovich has an end game, and it is not necessarily good for all of Gardner. Oh and Judith to take your favorite saying THAT’S MY OPINION.
    Here is a novel idea about the podcasting of these meetings. First your average 12 year old is savvy enough with technology to set this up. Second contact the school or JCCC about having their media classes do at as part of their curriculum and it would not cost the city a dime. Think outside the box people.

  20. First of all, Mr. Fotovich is not my pet and I have not contributed one cent to his campaign as is evidenced by his campaign finance report if and when it is filed. I don’t have money for the politicians because my priority is keeping my own bills paid and for charity to help those in need during this depression. I want the whole campaign finance schemes eliminated and each candidate would receive so many dollars for campaigning from the people and when that money is gone – he or she is out of luck getting any money to campaign for office from ANY SOURCE. And I want election campaigns limited to 6 months and 2 term limits as the max any candidate may serve. Then I would run everyone of those stinking lobbyists OUT of our halls of government and from contacting elected officials. I am not like Charles Clark, who was in charge of the recall of three longstanding public servants, who contributed over $500 to that recall and yet hadn’t paid his full property taxes since 2005 I believe it was and you can go to the Treasurer’s Website to confirm that information.

    Kellogg said he was contacting the school system about videotaping the city meetings – what happened to that??? Let’s get the full story on that one. If that School Board wants to charge me $150 to answer one question about the number of dropouts we have had for the past 5 years and failed to refer me to the Kansas Dept. of Education website to get this information for free and which they had already supplied to them, then I highly doubt if those “public servants” are going to do any favors for the citizens but hey, I would be glad to have them tell the status on that request if Kellogg made it.

    I would bet you Fotovich or many other citizens or Council members would be getting bids on the employee health care program in the past 22 years and if they didn’t, then they need to be hung by the feet as I expressed earlier.

    Ignorance or cronyism and more always takes priority with some people while many others suffer the consequences but I won’t go along with the status quo government that I have now and do want better and FOR ALL – NOT just governing for the special interests or the thieves that has been going on for years and years. We are BROKE – FACE THAT REALITY!!!!!

  21. DD can you hear us? says:

    First, change can be scary and necessary all at once. I applaud Fotovitch for at least asking questions. This is an unprecedented time in our city, country and world and we have to start making real and (sometimes) uncomfortable changes. Unfortunately for the last 50, 60, 70 years we’ve (as a country) had a free ride – as far as benefits go. Everyone is tightening their belt, companies big and small, and our government should AT THE VERY LEAST examine other options.

    Second, people who are employed anywhere are lucky to have jobs. People who work for the city and for private industry are lucky to have jobs. Just because you work for a government doesn’t mean that benefits can’t change, just as they have in my private industry job. We (as a city) have a finite amount of money to work with. Would you rather change your benefits OR have co-workers laid off and have to take on more responsibilities at your job?

    I guess I have one more point to make. I wonder if the benefits administrator/human resources person at my job cried when the executives instructed him/her to investigate changing from a traditional insurance plan to and HSA? I doubt it – but I appreciate the fact that Mary feels connected with the group she serves. At any rate, as Mary pointed out, these are people we’re dealing with. City employees, Larry and Dave, the rest of the council, taxpayers…we’re all people and we’re all just trying to get by. As a stakeholder in this town I’m glad someone is at least thinking about the bottom line. The line of credit is quickly closing, I hope someone realizes we can’t keep writing checks.

  22. Be sure to go to the public notice article posted right after this article and find out about another stinking deal that has put all city taxpayers at risk while some leech who isn’t even paying his taxes and only pays 37 CENTS to the city of Gardner in the year of 2008 on parcel after parcel walks away from that Council Meeting on Monday with a huge smile on his face………….he will be smiling for quite awhile while he doesn’t pay his taxes and gets financing for over $1 MILLION and you could end up paying for those costs………….if there is anything scary then that is scary and down right WRONG………..

  23. So Ms. Mundt is on the board of Midwest Public Risk…go figure. Let it ride for twenty two years? Give us taxpayers a break.
    we all have had to deal with pay freezes and health care increases. It’s a fact of these economic times. The council does need to look hard at why this has happened. The Mayor shows his true colors and loses his temper. Follow the money…there’s a stinch at city hall.

  24. Poor Example says:

    Mayor Drovetta sets a poor example for the young people in this town. I am disappointed.

  25. Disinterested Observer says:

    First, I wonder at the suggestion by Mayor Drovetta that it is not the council’s job to select a health plan. The State Governing Body handbook makes it quite clear that managing the budget is the top priority of the governing body. If oversight of an $800,000 per year expenditure falls outside this realm, then it would be good to provide the council with instruction as to just where the limits of their involvement are.

    Second, if it is indeed true that one of our city officials sits on the board of the body that provides insurance to the City, then I have to wonder who on the city staff is responsible for determining conflicts of interest. I surely must not be understanding this element of the article, because it seems so obviously wrong.

    Finally, a general observation regarding the conduct of public employees. Whether we like it or not, public employees are obligated to support the members of their respective Governing Body. Of course, it can be hard to maintain a professional contenance when the elected leaders of the community seem to have so much trouble setting a proper example, but it demeens the person, and the position, to behave otherwise. Oh, this guidance applies doubly to those elected representatives they serve.

    Good luck, Gardner Governing Body. It does appear to me that the questions being asked by Mr. Fotovich warrant serious consideration. Throwing money at health care in this manner has one certain outcome…it drives up the prices on that service for all of us.

  26. Laura from Gardner says:

    I am simply appalled at the behavior of our mayor. His confrontational and defensive style is not serving him – or the citizens he was (barely) voted to represent – at all. Maybe he should be the one recalled, not the individual city council members.

  27. Confrontational? says:

    Really?

    Maybe if the article hadn’t been written by Mr. Fotovich’s personal PR representative, we might have heard about some of the things that Mr. Fotovich added to the “confrontation” between himself and the mayor.

    And really, if Mr. Fotovich had not been so intent on balancing the city budget with his unproven plan for plundering the health care benefits of city employees; had he not insulted the intelligence and integrity of the same employees, the mayor might not have been inspired to use *gasp* the “s” word.

    In general, I’m going to be more inclined to question the judgement of the council member who sees city employees as his own personal checkbook for (supposedly) saving the city budget, than I am the mayor who was (apparently) shocked into uttering a swearword under his breath.

    And I’m DEFINITELY inclined to question the objectivity of the reporter who seems hellbent (I’m sorry, HECKbent) on carrying out personal vendettas instead of simply reporting what’s going on in our town.

  28. I don’t believe any Council member is out to get any employee but I do hope they are out to bring fiscal responsibility to the table which is so needed. We are all employees to someone and we all need health care but we better be looking for ways to bring the costs under control or even more people will be suffering if perhaps more layoffs are necessary.

    You should be worried more about what your lovely Mayor and city staff did with that benefit district for another thief who has NOT paid his tax bill in the past two years on most of the properties under that benefit district and the third year back only paid 37 CENTS to the city of Gardner on each one of those properties due to his farm appraisal he got for that year. You will never have funds to pay for health insurance or anything else if everybody was such a lowlife taker. This kind of financial rape condoned and supported by worthless politiicians is what is eating your lunch much more than what Fotovich could ever want to do.

    You are another one who can’t see the forest for the trees or who has been drinking the koolaid for so long you either have to be one of the takers or just plain stupid – that is my opinion.

  29. I just sent the following e-mail to the city of Gardner:

    I just read where Wyandotte County spends right at $26 Million for insurance costs for 4,500 individuals which works out to $5,778 per person. City of Gardner spends $796,027 for around 95 inidividuals which works out to $8,379 per person. This difference results in $247,095 that the city of Gardner is paying more on the average per year than Wyandotte County.

    This is just one example but an example that tells you we need to do better with our employee health care insurance costs. Again, I ask for fiscal responsibility, however, it seems impossible, in my opinion, when a dictator is running our city and only governing for the special interests and the majority of the Council is going along with that program. I would encourage you to be thinking very seriously about the choices you are making.

    Judith Rogers
    Gardner, Ks.

  30. GardnerPride says:

    Judith, I’m not as familiar with insurance pricing and such, but one would most certainly expect a lower per person cost or a 4500 person group as compared to a 95 person group. It’s just common sense. Don’t get me wrong, I am in full support of our insurance coverage being reviewed and most certainly being put out for bid, but you have to use realistic comparisons. See if you can find the insurance costs per individual for Spring Hill, Eudora, or even Ottawa and see how they compare to Gardner.

  31. TruBluBlazer says:

    The mayor isn’t a bad guy. Larry Fotovitch isn’t a bad guy. We are in crisis mode and we should explore EVERY option for saving the taxpayers. That doesn’t mean we should rubber stamp Mr. Fotovitch’s idea for changing health plans, but it should be on the table. I think we need to look even further into the sacred cow that is Parks and Rec.

    Just because you have checks that doesn’t mean you have money in the bank but I think that is how our city operated for years. And now we’re in this place where we “NEED” growth to pay for our past indulgences. Once that growth comes we will “NEED” even more growth to pay for it. We’re in a terrible cycle and unless we make some serious changes in the way we budget and spend taxpayer dollars we’ll never get out of it. Get creative council and mayor. EVERYTHING should be on the table.

    Mr. Mayor, please be open to change. Please get creative with cutting spending. Please protect the checkbook at City Hall. Please put an end to the cycle of spending without abandon. I don’t think you’re irresponsible, but I do think that small things add up.

  32. Confrontational? says:

    @TruBlue – I agree that we need to look at all options, even ones that might negatively affect our hard-working city employees. I’m just a little leery of the plan that Mr. Fotovich ran on during the election, and that he appears to be single-mindedly and uncompromisingly pursuing now. Especially when counting money in other people’s pockets appears to be his cure-all and only answer to the complicated task of balancing our city’s budget.

    Health insurance can be a huge expense for small businesses or entities like Gardner. I’ve worked for companies where they had to change providers every other year because the insurance company would give them a low introductory rate to draw them in, then double the rates when renewal time came around. So while it’s quite likely that Gardner could find much better health plans with much more favorable rates for its employees, we would need to be careful not to get stuck with the expensive, administrative nightmare of having to jump from provider to provider in order to maintain the low rates we think we’re getting.

    Further, the Council will need to be cautious, taking actions that effectively slash the salaries of our city employees. Yes, health benefits represent a HUGE per capita expense, but they also represent part of the entire salary package for these employees. If they have to start paying thousands of dollars, out-of-pocket, that they haven’t had to pay in the past, how many of them will be able to afford to stay at their jobs with the city? How many will be satisfied with their treatment BY the city? Would any of the people championing Mr. Fotovich’s pick-pocketing plan be willing to take major cuts to their overall salaries and health benefits?

    That said, it’s still quite likely that the city employees WILL end up getting their benefits cut. Gardner is not the only government – city, state, or federal – that is having to make hard decisions in such tough economic times. It’s not the only government to have elected people who actively vilified business, then realized that we need to work WITH business, not against it if we want to have the tax base to be able to sustain our community. (But that’s a different issue).

    All I’m saying is that it’s wrong for Mr. Fotovich and his rabid supporters, to target as his sole solution to the budget crunch the employees who keep our city running. It strikes me as odd, how willing he was to throw away a multi-million dollar and, instead, wants to punish city employees for his unrealistic short-sightedness.

  33. GardnerPride: I do recognize the difference between Wyandotte County and the city of Gardner with respect to the number of employees but the difference in insurance costs for one employee only of $2,601 is substantial. I don’t need to get a comparison of what Spring Hill, Eudora, etc. has but YOU need to do that yourself instead of telling me what to do.

    If any citizen is not outraged for the city to not get bids on our health care insurance costs for 22 YEARS, then I don’t know what to tell you.

    They give sweet deals to developers, builders, big biz, etc. such as the benefit district discussed this past Monday where the jerk hadn’t paid his taxes for the past two years and the third year back he only paid the citizens of Gardner 37 CENTS on each one of many of the parcels involved, you have city trucks idling for 85 minutes straight and longer creating wasteful costs and pollution, you have city personnel who are not knowledgeable on city ordinances and gives a permit for a horse to be in town, you have the citizens pay for millions in development costs to WAlmart which is the biggest retailer in the whole world and can and should be paying for those costs instead of the citizens of a small town of 18,000 citizens, you have a Mayor who will not let a Council member make a motion or put an item on the agenda and all of the other crap that has gone on for years and on which I could list by the hour and then you wonder why you have problems and a high tax bill.

    Look at the Work Session this evening and see where they want to hire 3 new policemen and raise the mill levy to cover the costs. In my opinion they knew damn good and well they would possibly be facing this when they made that switch to Jo. Co. Fire Dist. No. 1 but they sure as Sam Hill didn’t tell the people about that at the time that issue was being considered just like they never tell you all of the story but only what they want you to hear to get what they want. You mark my words, the citizens will be paying dearly for their new fire protection while paying even more to the city of Gardner if you continue with this present type of management and elected worthless politicians.

    Citizens better be doing their research and getting informed and educated and start using their VOICE and making better choices at the ballot box and asking for some resignations – that is my opinion.

  34. Confrontational? says:

    Hahaha, Judith. You say, “don’t tell ME what to do”, then go on to tell everyone else what to do. You wanna post statistics that support your arguments, YOU go find them. Or admit that you’re wrong and that your stats don’t mean anything.

    That aside, I found the following link (http://althouse.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-stupidevil-was-bill-luederss-attack.html) concerning a similar confrontation that occurred in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

    The confrontation, whatever happened there, was bad enough. What was worse, and what is strikingly similar to the reporting of the “confrontation” in the Gardner City Council, was the mixed bag of reporting on the incident in Wisconsin. One guy, who considers himself an “investigative journalist”, reported only half of the argument while other sources seemed to report either completely different details or a clearer picture of the ENTIRE story. In this case, it’s difficult to know the whole truth because apparently no independent journalists witnessed the event.

    In our case, the incident was apparently witnessed by several people, including a Gardner News journalist, but like Wisconsin, all we get is an inflammatory, one-sided article that’s thin on details and accuracy (I note that the erroneous “adjournment” headline has since been removed).

    Both cases, Wisconsin’s and ours, represent perfect examples of why our news media should hold themselves as OBJECTIVE reporters of the news, and should be diligent about reporting facts AS facts, instead of using supposition and innuendo to cast their favorite good and bad guys in whatever they write about. The journalist in the Wisconsin case has a lot of egg on his face; a lot of backtracking he’s having to do for the one-sided inaccuracy of his initial report. It’s too bad that Gardner News hides behind its unapologetic edits of its own brand of yellow journalism. Our city deserves better.

  35. This city doesn’t deserve better because they haven’t earned it. If all city meetings were videotaped as I have requested for years now, then there would be no he said or she said crap going on but I will bet you Drovetta doesn’t want that program because he doesn’t want the people fully informed – he wants to continue his little dictatorship of only putting the information out there that he wants out there so he can get his agenda items thru. Broxterman promised me in Dec. that after the first of the year the videotaping of city meetings would be put on the council agenda for a vote – well, you haven’t seen it yet and I bet I know why.

    Now with respect to my comment to GardnerPride, that was done because I spend a huge amount of time giving citizens the other side of stories or issues and other important information such as the detailed information given above on health care costs the citizens pay for and I get tired of doing it all myself. GardnerPride can help the citizens just like I do and get those comparisons and other information just like I have done time and time again. It is called sharing the work load and doing YOUR PART. I have saved the citizens of this city, county and state over $1 Million by the work I do watching over the thieves and the worthless polticians – much more could be saved if other citizens would provide some assistance or do what they should be doing. Keep up the apathy and not lifting a finger to right some wrongs and you will find yourself in the mess that Bell, California and other cities are finding themselves in or perhaps worse.

  36. Confrontational? says:

    @Judith – so you’re saying that you can post tons of meaningless, out-of-context stats and cross-links, but you won’t take the time to make your stats IN context and meaningful. It’s everybody else’s job to post CORRECT stats: you only post the WRONG ones.

    If your facts and links and all those article snippets you post and all those things you tell us to do are WRONG, but you refuse to take even the slightest effort to make them relevant or RIGHT, what does that tell us about how seriously we should take anything you post? Even when you ARE right, your flat refusal to correct obvious errors in what you claim to be fact make it impossible to believe ANYTHING you say. It’s your OWN apathy that undermines your message, not ours.

  37. Okay, hold up there a minute. What exactly have I said or posted that is wrong? Give me specifics – not just that I am wrong. Put your money where your mouth is.

  38. More than pleased to see this headline come in: Ex-Gov. Blagojevich found guilty of corruption charges

    Need some corruption charges filed here in Johnson County.

  39. Confrontational? says:

    What have you said wrong?

    How ’bout: “Need some corruption charges filed here in Johnson County”? No proof of said corruption offered by you. As usual, apparently.

    But seriously, how about comparing the per capita insurance cost for Gardner with that of the ENTIRITY of Wyandotte County? Apples and oranges, anyone? And when asked to correct your error, you ducked. As usual. Said you didn’t have to correct your mistake, it was up to everyone else to correct YOUR mistakes.

    Need more examples? Just keep postin’.

  40. The owners of the property at 183rd & Center, Gardner, Ks. received a benefit district from the people of Gardner, Ks. wherein the people of that city bankrolled them for the cost of putting in utilities on that property. If the owners don’t pay the assessment to pay back that money, it is my understanding the citizens will be left holding the bag and paying the cost of those bonds floated for that purpose.

    The owners of that property claim the property is being used for farm use since they submitted an ag lease to the County Appraiser and I presume the lease (citizen not allowed to look at lease as per Mr. Jarrett, head legal counsel with Johnson County) and yet I have lived across the street from that property for 8 years and there has never been a crop on that land, cattle crazing or anything of a farm nature. The County Commissioners, the County Appraiser, Sen. Rob Olson, County Dist. Attorney and many other elected officials know of these farm appraisals and assessments and do NOTHING to right this wrong. If they were being appraised and assessed as commercial vacant land, the citizens would be receiving much more than they are now. The hardworking, loyal citizens underwrite these benefit districts for the thieves and what do the citizens get in return? Look at the following tax bill on one of those parcels under the benefit district located at 183rd & Center. Note how they pay the city $1.03 and they pay a grand total of $2.69 for schools. Wonder why you don’t have money for raises for your employees or have enough money to run your city or why you don’t have enough money for your schools – well, I would say it is due to the thieves and the worthless politicins who support and enable them. Does corruption and/or fraud come to your mind when you consider all details of this issue? The parcel on this tax bill has an appraised value of $110 – do you think ole Licausi would sell that property for $110?? He sure wouldn’t but he sure loves paying taxes on $110 appraised value rather than the true value.

    REAL ESTATE DETAIL
    Property Number: CP09800000 0001
    Bill Number: 11102321687
    Location: 18365 GARDNER
    Tax District: 0003
    Half Tax: $6,085.87
    Full Tax: $12,171.74

    TAX YEAR AMOUNT PAID HALF DUE FULL DUE INTEREST DUE FEES DUE
    2010 $12,171.74 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00

    PAYMENT HISTORY
    Date Paid Amount Paid Receipt
    12/21/2010 $6,085.87
    05/11/2011 $6,085.87

    MILL LEVY
    Tax Authority Rate Tax Amount
    STATE OF KS 1.5000 .05
    JOHNSON CO 17.7480 .59
    COMM CLGE 8.7990 .29
    JO CO PARK 2.3500 .07
    GARDNER CITY 31.1190 1.03
    231 UNIFIED 29.2330 .96
    231 SCH GEN 20.0000 .66
    231 BOND 32.3030 1.07
    JO CO LIB 3.1580 .10
    249 GACCENTERST 12,166.92

    Click here to generate a printable bill.

    LEGAL DESCRIPTION
    Appraised Agricultural Use Acreage: 0.00
    CENTER STREET COMMONS LT 1
    GAC 170 1

    ASSESSED VALUES
    Class Land Improvement
    A 33

    Last Monday evening your Council voted to let another owner of properties within a benefit district 20 years rather than the normal 10 years to pay his assessments. And yet that owner of many of the parcels of that benefit district has not even paid his taxes for the past two years (and the city knew this) and the third year back paid the taxes based on the good ole farm use and they only paid 37 CENTS

  41. The above comments were not finished but this website is doing strange things this morning and went ahead and posted without me submitting the comments, therefore, I will continue my comments here.

    …..they only paid 37 CENTS to the citizens of Gardner, Ks. Once again, do you think your elected officials and city employees are working for your interests??? Do you think they are turning their heads to the possible corruption and fraud while giving you a higher tax bill???

    I submitted stats on health care insurance costs yesterday for the employees of Wyandotte County from an article I read. If this information is not correct, then by all means, please submit the proof or correct information to substantiate that fact. I always want to be working with the truth. I very much would like to see comparisons of health care insurance costs paid by other cities within Johnson County and would encourage any or all citizens to submit those comparisons for consideration. The taxpayers need valid information in order to make informed and intelligent decisions – the politicians do too but it doesn’t seem like to me in many instances that they reach out for that information but merely rubber stamp what is placed before them.

  42. Obamacare might start looking real good to you……..read the following article to find out why.

    ******************************************************

    Employers cut back, discontinue retirement insurance programs
    Wichita Business Journal
    Date: Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 7:35am CDT
    Most large employers offer some form of retirement insurance, but a new survey by Towers Watson shows many are cutting back or eliminating the plans.

    CNNMoney reports some employers are reducing coverage and shifting more of the cost-sharing to retirees, while others plan to direct workers to health insurance exchanges instead.

    The health exchanges are part of a federal health reform law, but it’s still unclear how much insurance will cost on the exchange.

  43. I will do a re-run on this article from the Denver Post about the citizens of Colorado who also lose tax revenue by the millions due to, in my opinion, these fraudulent appraisals. Think these jerks along with their worthless politicians are doing you any favors??????? And I have to wonder if the farmers are struggling any more than average citizens who do not farm. And the worthless politicians are all too happy to continue to provide lame excuses for the thieves. The owner of our 80 acre trailer court here in GArdner that collects rents on all of those lots is allowed a residential assessment rather than a commercial assessment as it should be due to the lovely legislators allowing that and be very cognizant of the tax revenue you are losing because of that sweet deal. To me that owner of that trailer court owns a BUSINESS and should be paying taxes based on a commercial assessment and appraisal of land. Know what your elected officials are doing to you along with the thieves and then you will realize why your taxes are so high and yet you still don’t have enough money for all of the needs.

    *********************************************************

    Colorado tax break intended for struggling farmers enriches developers, investors
    By Christopher N. Osher and Eric Gorski
    The Denver Post
    Posted: 03/06/2011 01:00:00 AM MSTUpdated: 03/06/2011 12:54:56 PM MST

    Appraiser David Niles of the Jefferson County assessor’s office looks for signs of farming activity on vacant land off U.S. 36 in Jefferson County that is taxed as agricultural, receiving a significant tax break. In some cases, land designation has gone back and forth. (Joe Amon | The Denver Post)
    Southeast of Aurora. Agricultural land owned by South Quincy Residential in unincorporated Arapahoe County comes right up against a housing development. One lot a little more than a tenth of an acre has an annual tax bill of $1.66. (Google Images )Related Articles
    Mar 19:
    Bill tightening Colorado’s ag-tax laws advances in House
    Mar 7:
    In Colorado, some famous faces, names get ag-land tax breaks, too
    Mar 4:
    Adams County assessor proposes big increases to taxable land values on properties in Post report
    Feb 3:
    Retooling vacant-land taxes urged as developers seize on ag breaks
    Jan 7:
    Legislation aims to minimize Colorado’s ag-land tax breaks
    Jan 2:
    Cherry Hills Village properties are fertile ground for tax breaks
    Dec 29:
    Colorado energy companies often able to take advantage of lower agricultural tax rate
    Dec 17:
    Ag label lands Hick a lower tax
    Dec 3:
    “Recreational property” reaping a truckload of ag-tax benefits
    Nov 21:
    Acres of tax breaks provide fertile harvest on land surrounding DIA
    Nov 8:
    Colo. lawmakers urged to stop abuse of ag-land tax statusFirst of two parts

    One of the biggest players in Douglas County agriculture, at least for tax purposes, is not in the business of growing wheat or grazing cattle.

    It builds subdivisions.

    About one in six of the county’s parcels taxed as agricultural are owned by subsidiaries of Denver home builder MDC Holdings Inc.

    In Broomfield County, another hotbed of suburban growth, a staggering 95 percent of the county’s agricultural parcels are controlled by developer, commercial or investor interests. No one owns more land on the agricultural tax rolls there than Pulte Homes of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the nation’s largest homebuilder.

    From Denver’s outskirts to exclusive mountain communities, the

    Extras
    The findings: View the Post analyzed agricultural land data in nine Front Range counties.
    Got a tip? The Post has been investigating the use and abuse of the agricultural tax designation. If you know of a story to pursue, contact us at 303-893-TIPS (8477) or toll-free at 866-748- TIPS, or e-mail us at TIPS@denverpost.com.
    story line is similar. Developers and corporations more interested in bulldozing land for houses and strip malls than raising cattle or crops are saving millions of dollars in taxes by taking advantage of a state law meant to help struggling farmers.

    A Denver Post investigation of property-tax records sheds new light on the extent of the practice: Developers and firms with little or no ties to actual farming own at least 40 percent of the nearly 54,000 parcels classified as agricultural in eight Front Range counties.

    The lenient tax structure saves developers, businesses and others who have no real mud on their boots an estimated $366 million a year in those counties, according to a Post analysis using data from CoStar Group , a Washington-based commercial real estate research firm.

    In 10 mountain counties analyzed by The Post, developers and others that don’t meet the traditional definition of farmer or rancher own at least 9 percent of the 23,244 agricultural parcels.

    The practice has continued unabated even though assessors have been complaining for decades. The latest proposed fix making its way through the legislature makes only marginal changes and would have no effect on how developers use ag

    East of Castle Rock.Land taxed as agricultural surrounds a subdivision near Franktown. The parcel is among more than 1,000 Douglas County ag parcels owned by a subsidiary of Denver homebuilder MDC Holdings. (The Denver Post)taxation.

    An array of special interests finds common cause in keeping the status quo — from farmers who fear any weakening of the law to high-end resorts and homebuilders who contend higher taxes on undeveloped land will lead to higher home prices.

    “The constituencies that currently benefit from the tax break don’t want a change,” said state Rep. Matt Jones, a Louisville Democrat. “And there’s not a strong constituency for the average taxpayer.”

    Jones, a member of the House agriculture committee, said The Post’s findings show the issue deserves more attention.

    “All taxpayers should pay their way, and developers should not get a big ag exemption when they’re holding property for speculation,” he said.

    East of Thornton Boxed in by homes in Adams County sit 86 acres owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc. The media conglomerate pays about $86 in property taxes annually on those ag holdings. (The Denver Post)Along the Front Range, big business also turns to the ag designation to slash tax bills — including the Clear Channel radio and communications conglomerate, Denver’s Furniture Row Cos. and IBM.

    Former Gov. Dick Lamm, who held the office in the 1980s when voters approved a constitutional change that allows the ag tax breaks, thinks new restrictions are warranted.

    “I think it is a shame, and it adds to sprawl,” Lamm said. “It is unfair, and it unjustly enriches people. It allows people to tie up land under so-called agriculture and use it as a speculator’s device.”

    The financial impact depends on how counties navigate Colorado’s tax limitation system. In some counties, the money would go to lower everyone

    Outside Centennial Dove Valley Business Park Associates owns about 64 agricultural lots of about 5 acres each near the Denver Broncos practice facility in Arapahoe County. One 3.6-acre parcel had a property tax bill of $68. (The Denver Post)else’s property taxes. In others, the extra money would flow into the general funds of counties, special districts and any other taxing entity — and to school districts.

    The state budget is also affected because the state must step up and help finance school districts when local tax revenue can’t cover the cost.

    Developers defend their use of the agricultural tax break, saying it gives them flexibility while they wait for an ailing real estate market to rebound. They also say the tax break lowers the costs of new homes and predict they’ll have to pass increased costs on to homebuyers if the system is abolished.

    “I don’t think the objective of Colorado policy ought to be to make homes less affordable,” said Steve

    Click on image to enlarge (The Denver Post)Durham, a lobbyist who represents the Colorado Association of Home Builders.

    But other states take a harder line. In Texas, developers who bulldoze land that once gave them ag tax breaks must pay back taxes for up to five years.

    The Post review found developers claiming ag tax rates on prime development land already subdivided into lots as small as a tenth of an acre, a size assessors say is too small for any viable farming. In the suburbs of Denver, one out of every four parcels classified as agricultural is 1 acre or less.

    “Where we are seeing problems is when a developer already has streets and utilities in place and lots for sale, and they put an electrical fence up and put a couple of animals on there just to get the classification,” said Montrose County Assessor Brad Hughes, a member of a state task force that studied Colorado’s ag taxation issues last year.

    The property owners aren’t breaking any law. They’re just doing the minimum required to clear the state’s low bar to get the prized ag designation.

    By one measure, the state has more land on the agricultural tax rolls than it has agricultural land.

    In its 2010 farm census, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found 31.6 million acres of agricultural land in the state — 2 million acres less than what county assessors report.

    Assessors’ hands tied

    The Post analyzed ag land data in the Front Range counties of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Douglas, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld.

    It also studied the mountain counties of Gunnison, Grand, Summit, Moffat, Eagle, Montrose, Pitkin, San Miguel, Garfield and Mesa.

    In all, developers and other nonfarm interests own at least 667,606 acres on the agricultural tax rolls investigated, nearly 10 percent of the total agricultural acreage.

    In Douglas County, the beneficiaries include MDC Land Corp., Club Vista Properties of Las Vegas and the Sierra Ridge development in Parker. They own more than 800 acres subdivided into nearly 1,600 lots.

    The annual ag property-tax bill for all three builders put together: $1,160. If the land were not classified agricultural, they’d owe $1.4 million, according to the assessor’s office.

    Representatives of MDC, which owns the most parcels, declined to comment. The corporation is a subsidiary of MDC Holdings, which builds under the Richmond American Homes brand.

    Toby Damisch, a deputy assessor in Douglas County, said the rules provide a “huge opening” for property owners.

    “They can throw some cows on there and then give us a lease and then fence it, and they could take the cow off after one day,” he said. “We can do nothing.”

    However, he pointed out that the current system has no middle ground between low ag rates and the alternative high vacant-land rate.

    “We’re in a scenario where it is one extreme or another,” he said.

    Once an agricultural classification is granted, it’s difficult to take away, he said. Property owners don’t have to submit tax documents to show there is an agricultural enterprise, so the burden is on assessors to monitor the land use.

    In Broomfield County, developers, investors and businesses own more than than 80 percent of the county’s 5,634 agricultural acres. In that county, nearly 85 percent of the ag parcels are 1 acre or less.

    “They operate within the letter of the law but probably not within the spirit of the law,” said Broomfield Assessor John Storb.

    Unlike other states, Colorado has no minimum acreage for agricultural land, no standards for crop production or minimum number of animals to qualify. The most stringent requirement is that an owner try to make a profit.

    Pulte Homes won the ag designation for nearly 1,400 acres in Broomfield County by leasing land out to farmers, according to the assessor’s office.

    The property-tax bill for Pulte Homes’ Broomfield ag land is $30,800, a savings of more than $2.8 million, according to calculations done by The Post and checked with the assessor’s office. The firm did not respond to requests for comment.

    In Adams County, Denver sports mogul Stan Kroenke’s real estate firm owns 54 ag parcels in Brighton near Interstate 76, ranging from less than an acre to more than 500 acres. The tax bill is $3,200.

    But the plans for Kroenke’s land don’t include crops. The land is part of the massive Prairie Center housing, retail and commercial development.

    Lofty goal, messy reality

    The ag tax benefit dates to 1969 and became a part of the state constitution when voters and the legislature took up broad property-tax reform in 1982. The idea was to lessen the burden on farmers and as a result keep food prices low, according to legislative testimony from the era.

    The constitutional change ensures agricultural property-tax rates in Colorado are based on a production formula favorable to keeping values low, not on what the land would fetch if sold.

    If developers couldn’t turn to the agricultural designation, the land in most cases would be classified as vacant and carry much higher taxes because the land would be considered worth so much more.

    The law’s wording is so vague that the state Supreme Court ruled a 23.7-acre polo field in Parker could qualify for the ag designation even though the grass was the type used for golf courses and lawns, not grazing. The court ruled in 1996 that the field could have been part of a larger agricultural enterprise.

    In another key case, the Colorado Supreme Court in 1992 granted the ag designation for 1,200 acres near Superior owned by M.D.C. Construction Co. The company purchased the land for $12.74 million. The court’s ruling slashed the annual property taxes to $5,331 from $123,090.

    The Boulder County assessor’s office argued in that case that the land should be taxed as developable because it was zoned and subdivided for new development. The Supreme Court instead ruled the land was agricultural because the builder was leasing it out for grazing, harvesting hay and boarding horses. The zoning of the land and future intent of the developer had no bearing.

    In dissent, Colorado Supreme Court Justice George Lohr predicted the ruling would open a huge tax loophole for developers by allowing them to lease out land at below-market rates for the sole “purpose of obtaining a significant tax reduction.”

    Assessors say that court ruling left them with little legal recourse to rein in the way developers manipulate the ag tax to their benefit.

    Far from the intent

    In the 1990s, Don Clifton struggled to apply Colorado’s ag law when he was a member of the Colorado Board of Assessment Appeals, which adjudicates land valuation disputes between county assessors and landowners.

    Clifton said he rejected the ag designation for small tracts of land owned by developers — only to have his findings reversed by the higher court.

    “It’s not fair and equitable,” Clifton said. “It’s who can cheat the best.”

    Clifton said he and others on the board pleaded with the legislature in the 1990s to tighten the law to no avail.

    “The intent was to help the farmer and the rancher in the state of Colorado be competitive and be able to produce a crop and still make a profit,” Clifton said. “But it’s just gone crazy.”

    The legislature has revisited the issue over the years — to expand its scope, not tighten it. In 1990, the legislature created a forest ag program to help Christmas tree farmers.

    Today, the forest ag program slashes the taxes of nearly 700 property owners.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper has 260 forest ag acres in Park County with a tax bill of $330.31. A conservation easement there restricts development.

    If Granby Realty Holdings has its way, the company will go on the forest ag tax rolls in Grand County. The firm is battling Grand County Assessor Tom Weydert over its effort to have much of a 5,000-acre development with a golf course and ski village classified as forest agriculture. In many areas, the forest management consisted of bulldozing trees for new utilities and to prepare lots for resale, Weydert said.

    Weydert said his review found Granby Realty sold $3,000 worth of wood products in 2007 and 2008. During those years, the firm sold more than $9 million in lots.

    “That’s my question and concern,” Weydert said. “What truly is the primary purpose of all this property? Are we managing the forest, or are we really just a real estate development?”

    The company’s lawyer declined to comment, citing the pending case.

    The Colorado Board of Assessment Appeals will hold a hearing on the issue May 4. If the developer wins, the value of the firm’s disputed property holdings for tax purposes would drop from $17.57 million to $22,850. The tax bill would drop from a potential high of $266,000 to at most $700.

    Assessors estimated the forest agricultural program slashed participants’ property taxes by more than $30 million from 1993 to 2005, the only years the state compiled data. About half the money would have gone to school districts.

    And the forest ag program makes up only about 1 percent of the state’s agricultural land.

    $8 tax on $8 million of land

    In mountain resort counties, the ag tax savings can be enormous because land is so expensive.

    About 8 miles from Aspen, Aspen Valley Ranch LLC has subdivided 813 agricultural acres it bought for $37 million into 14 sites for luxury homes.

    Just one 20-acre site cost the development firm $8 million, records show, but grazing a few cattle and haying the land lowers the value for taxation to $1,400. The annual property tax on the lot is $8.44.

    Richard Holland, the developer, said 200 acres of Aspen Valley will continue as a ranch.

    “We like the idea of a maintaining a working ranch environment with or without the tax benefit,” Holland said. “There is something to be said for that. We’re not just playing a tax benefit game.”

    Developers aren’t the only ones using the ag tax break, either. So is big business.

    In Boulder County, IBM owns 464 acres of land designated as agricultural.

    The San Antonio-based Clear Channel radio and communications conglomerate has a property-tax bill of $86 on 86 agricultural acres it owns in Adams County.

    Furniture Row Cos. owns more than 1,000 acres of agricultural land in Adams and Arapahoe counties.

    Bill McKendry, Furniture Row’s director of marketing and communications, said the firm is trying to assess what to do with the land. He said raising the taxes on such holdings would “disincentivize businesses and corporations from putting thoughts and ideas together that could eventually make land more valuable as a taxable piece of property.”

    JoAnn Groff, the state’s property- tax administrator and chairwoman of the task force that studied the issue last year, said Colorado’s Western heritage is part of the reason the state’s laws have escaped an overhaul.

    “But no one would think Utah, Wyoming or Arizona are any less Western than we are,” Groff said, stressing that those states all are more stringent on doling out ag tax breaks. “I believe the legislature has an opportunity to revisit this issue and determine what it wants the policy to be.”

    Both Arizona and Utah require a minimum acreage for crops or grazing, with some exceptions. Production targets must be met in Utah.

    Wyoming bars agricultural classification for land already platted and subdivided for development.

    Colorado legislators are considering a change this year for only agricultural properties with homes, an effort mostly targeting ranchettes in wealthy resort areas.

    The proposal would tax at the higher residential rate up to 2 acres of an agricultural property, including the land under a home, provided the home isn’t considered an integral part of a farming operation.

    The proposal would do nothing to how developers use the current system to lower taxes on land they’ve bought for new construction.

    State Rep. Tom Massey, a Republican from Poncha Springs and the bill’s sponsor, said that had he gone further, the farm lobby would have doomed any chance of passing the legislation. Although legislation could have been crafted to protect real farmers while reining in the breaks for developers, it wouldn’t have mattered, Massey said.

    “How do I put this gently?” Massey said. “The ag guys, they have great trepidation. They are really worried about losing their ag exemption entirely because if they do, they are entirely out of business.”

    He added that the way developers obtain ag taxation by leasing property for grazing and haying helps ranchers and farmers. Raising taxes on developers would increase the price to lease the land to farmers, he said.

    Although Massey limited the scope of his bill to head off opposition, his effort is still generating pushback.

    Real estate brokers say agricultural taxation is a tool that has helped them survive a steep downturn in the real estate market, and they’re opposed to any effort to restrict its use.

    George Harvey, president of the Colorado Association of Realtors and a real estate broker in Telluride, said now is not the time to make changes.

    “We’re facing the highest foreclosures we’ve seen since the early 1980s,” he said. “Why would you increase the cost of real estate in a recession?”

    Looking for signs of farming

    On a recent afternoon, land appraisers David Niles and Tammy Crowley with the Jefferson County assessor’s office conduct a field check on 146 acres ripe for development — property hugging U.S. 36 with views of the Flatirons.

    The land is owned by R. Dean Hawn Interests, an entity controlled by a Texas family in the oil and gas business, according to public records and their lawyer.

    The assessor’s office and the owners have been in a tug-of-war over how the land should be taxed, and some parcels have swung between agricultural and vacant land designations.

    Although efforts to harvest wheat repeatedly failed, Niles says, the office determined last summer that enough work had been done to return four parcels to the ag tax rolls.

    As a result, the property’s annual tax bill dropped from more than $84,000 to $239.98, records show.

    Denver lawyer Kenneth Kramer, who represents the landowners, said they plan to continue farming it.

    But similar land nearby has been sold for development.

    Crowley and Niles park and walk through a break in the fence, looking for evidence of farming.

    The latest stated agricultural enterprise is to produce hay bales from a dryland pasture mix.

    The appraisers visit a parcel that looks most promising and find two horses and grass that is still tall.

    Miles says just growing grass does not qualify as agriculture, and it should have been cut last fall.

    “How many years can you go without having a crop and still be a farmer?” he says.

    The assessor’s office is considering changing the designation again.

    Kramer says hay was cut in the summer of 2009. But Niles says his office was never able to verify any harvest.

    On Monday, Kramer says, a local farmer who tends the land will return and plant seed for the next cycle.

    ********************************************************

    No wonder your County Lead Legal Advisor, Mr. Jarrett, says you can’t look at those ag leases.

  44. Some fathead (who is too cowardly to post under their real name) mocked me earlier about my comments regarding corruption, etc. in Johnson County. Read the following news that just hit. This is right down the road from you. You should always know what your city or other government employees are doing or not doing. Hey, Fathead, do you think maybe things like this are happening in Johnson County and do you think charges like these should be filed or do you want to pay dearly to keep all and all kinds of the thieves living the good life???? Your ignorance is showing, Fathead…….

    *************************************************************

    Former Merriam Municipal Court clerk held on embezzlement charge
    By JOE LAMBE and ROBERT A. CRONKLETON
    The Kansas City Star

    Johnson County prosecutors on Monday charged Fabiola E. Cruz, 35, of Shawnee, with one count of theft of more than $100,000 and four counts of a computer crime.

    The money was taken from 2008 to 2010, according to court records, and there is a chance more losses will be discovered, said Phil Lammers, Merriam city administrator. Cruz worked as a court clerk from April 2002 until she resigned last September, he said.

    The charges stem from an internal audit that discovered discrepancies relating to the collection of court fines in numerous municipal court files, he said, and the audit led to a criminal investigation by the Merriam Police Department.

    The city has evaluated its cash management procedures and made changes to prevent this type of theft, Lammers said. The city also is improving its computer system to have more control.

    He declined to say just how the money was taken, but said the loss will not cause problems to offenders who have paid their fines.

    “That money was received by the city,” he said. “It was what happened to it after the fact.”

    He said this type of theft is unsettling when a trusted employee’s behavior is called into question.

    “With the authority of professional public administration comes the accounting responsibility for every dime of the public’s money,” he said.

    The city plans to seek restitution. It has also contacted its insurance carrier regarding the embezzlement.

    Cruz is being held in the Johnson County jail on a $100,000 bond.

  45. Confrontational? says:

    All that, five posts and thousands of words: but you’re STILL ducking the question, Judith. Remember comparing Gardner to the entirety of Wyandotte County? Why not post RELEVANT information instead of burying us with meaningless trivia that doesn’t pertain to the topics being discussed?

    BTW, I don’t see a lot of names posted out here; don’t see YOUR last name, for that matter. It’s beside the point.

    If you want us to believe all the claims you make out here, you’d better be willing to back it up. Even a fathead can see THAT, silly.

  46. Hey, Fathead, evidently you can’t read or have no reading comprehensive skills. I have told you repeatedly my Wyandotte County stats that I posted pertained to Wyandotte County employees only – is the brain not working today, however, it looks like it never works.

    Last name is Rogers, Fathead, which I have posted numerous times but again you have reading problems or maybe you are getting senile and have memory problems……who knows, who cares….

  47. I followed up today on getting a reply from Melissa Mundt with respect to how long it had been since we had shopped for competitive pricing on our employee health care insurance plan. Here is my follow-up (on the lower portion) and then Melissa’s reply (at the top)

    **************************************************************

    I am still out of the office, but the answer is that we been with pool since probably the late 1980s or early 1990s.

    Sent from my HTC Touch Pro2 on the Now Network from Sprint®.

    —–Original Message—–
    From: jj
    Sent: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 1:38 PM
    To: Melissa Mundt
    Cc: Mary Bush
    Subject: Health Care

    Last week Mary Bush referred by request about my question as to how long it had been since the city had asked for bids on the employee health insurance program. I have not received this information from you and would appreciate your reply.

    Judith Rogers
    Gardner, Ks.

  48. Confrontational? says:

    Do I REALLY need to quote you to remind you of what you REALLY said?

    For the record:

    “I just read where Wyandotte County spends right at $26 Million for insurance costs for 4,500 individuals which works out to $5,778 per person. City of Gardner spends $796,027 for around 95 inidividuals which works out to $8,379 per person. This difference results in $247,095 that the city of Gardner is paying more on the average per year than Wyandotte County.”

    What part of “(t)his difference results in $247,095 that the city of Gardner is paying more on average than Wyandotte County” implies that you were NOT comparing the apples and oranges of the tiny city of Gardner to the LARGE county of Wyandotte?

    MY last name is Fathead. You said so yourself. But at least I remember what I wrote and don’t try to change the subject when I’m wrong.

  49. I hate to say this but I agree with Judith. I’m shocked that the city hasn’t bid out their insurance for over twenty years! There is a lot of money to be saved and, heck the city employees may even get a better insurance plan.

  50. Yeah, Fotovich is not the big bad wolf trying to blow down the employees’ houses nor the citizens’ houses. The big bad wolf are people dressed as Superman and who portray themselves as such but in all reality they are named Drovetta. This issue only tells you what kind of job politicians and bureaucrats such as Drovetta, Lehman, Fairburn, Mundt and on and on have been doing to you for years. And it gets worse with issue after issue that you address – this no bid health insurance issue is just one of MANY and it is due to corrupt, cronyism goverment in my opinion. And yet the people do nothing to help themselves and even worse, they continue to support and enable this type of management and government – high prices in many ways will be paid by all.

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