October 23, 2014

Cut spending or raise revenue? Gardner, Edgerton approaches differ

For those in the audience listening, you would have thought the sky was falling during  a Gardner City Council budget work session July 1.
Laura Gourley, city finance director, told council members a 12 percent utility rate increase is needed due to lack of growth. Growth, she explained, maintains low rates.
Maybe Gardner council members should direct city staff in the same way Edgerton council members did theirs – make cuts.
Faced with a lower city valuation, Beth Linn, Edgerton’s city administrator, told council members June 27 that the city would have to raise its mill levy to maintain current revenues.
To Edgerton elected officials’ credit, they said no.
We hope Gardner’s council is brave enough to say the same.
We just don’t buy into a huge utility rate increase.
Despite record city reserves, nearly 30 percent in tax increases over the past four years and the approval of a $9 million sewer project that may save the citizens buckets of money in the long run (according to city staff), the city is running desperately short of being able to meet its most basic roles – like providing water and sewer services to residents.
Why?
We submit that if rates have been based on growth rather than on what it costs to provide and maintain services with healthy reserves, we’ve been doing it wrong.
Utility rates should be user funded – meaning individuals should pay their own way when it comes to water and sewer. Rates should be determined by what it costs to provide the service and maintain existing systems. Growth should not factor into the equation of existing equipment and staffing.
Meanwhile, growth should pay its own way. If we have been counting on growth to maintain our existing systems, and deferring repairs as they were needed, we’ve been doing it wrong, and obviously have been for a very long time.
Show us three instances in the last 50 years in which growth has resulted in lowered tax rates or utility rates. We’re betting no three instances exist.
Gardner council members suggested that general fund reserves should be used to buy down a proposed 12 percent rate increase. While we appreciate the gesture, that’s not the way to do it either. To do so essentially causes lower income residents to subsidize large utility users.
If, in fact, a 12 percent increase is necessary, (and we’re not convinced it is) we encourage the council to slash the mill levy rate to make up for the utility rate increase rather than using reserves to fund our utilities.
We also believe that Gardner officials are remiss if they don’t properly fund city infrastructure. If maintenance was deferred for the decade in which the city’s population doubled, then what’s to keep additional revenue for maintenance from being deferred again?
We hope Gardner’s council will do what Edgerton’s council did.
Just say no.

Comments

  1. jon soileau says:

    With all due respect, it appears as though the intention of raising utility rates as mentioned has been openly stated by the city government for some time now. In the 2011 Annual financial report, the explicit intent of raising water rates by 5% and waste water rates by 8% annually each year over the next several years was published. Usage rates for water and waste water in this city have gone up about that much year over year since at least 2008 (right in the middle of the economic downturn). Base rates for both of these utilities have also been on the increase year over year since 2008 (at an average of $.50 a year). The only utility increase we haven’t seen lately was an energy rate increase; the last one being in 2009. This cities utility rates are higher than my friends are paying in Overland Park , etc……do the research. On average we pay overall 20% higher in combined utilities than what we would be paying had we sold the utilities to KCPL (as they had offered). Sad part….it’s budgeted in black print (as it has been) to continue rising year over year (at least in terms of water and waste water; who knows what’s lurking behind door number three/Gardner Energy in the near future). I agree….city council members should just say no, but more importantly, they should just say yes to selling it or partnering and so we can avoid the outrageous notion that government knows how to effectively and efficiently run/manage a business. Thatisall.

  2. Both towns waste too much money. I have seen it over the years.They’ve lost commonsense about the difference in needs and wants. They compare themselves to all the rich towns up north or Stanley/Stillwell rather than doing what local residents need. I hear it all the time, comparing themselves to Mission or Prairie Village to get what they want.
    As to raising my water bill, it’s high enough. That’s why the workers hide behind the answering machine when the bills come out.

  3. Judith Rogers says:

    Debt can really be a bummer for any entity – be it personal or otherwise. Here are a couple of e-mails between myself and Gourley back in 2010 when Gardner citizens got hit with a huge city property tax increase, even after they sold off our Fire Department. With debt payments totaling this amount there is no question as to why you have money problems and most of this debt is for the thieves and not for the citizens who live here and have to pay the sky high amounts. And I don’t believe things have changed any since 2010 – they are still wheeling and dealing the same as usual and citizens are still voting and paying for these jaybirds who bring them this type of government.

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

    Ms. Rogers:

    I anticipate the total amount of debt payments due in 2010 for all debt (including lease purchases, etc) to be $10,954,819.

    Laura Gourley

    Finance Director

    From: jj [mailto:pandazinger@kc.rr.com]
    Sent: Sunday, August 16, 2009 12:27 PM
    To: Laura Gourley
    Subject: Debt

    I note our city’s total indebtedness now stands at around $98 Million. Please advise what is the total amount you anticipate it will take to make payments for this coming year on that debt.

    Thank you.

    Judith Rogers

    Gardner, Ks.

  4. Judith Rogers says:

    Correction: The e-mails were dated in 2009 and we got our huge tax increase in 2010. But again, nothing has changed – City Hall doesn’t seem to mind whatsoever to putting citizens further in debt, hiring new employees like crazy, continuing to take care of the thieves and on and on I could go but you already know the facts yourself if you have been paying any attention whatsoever.

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