Gardner residents should wrap a tight fist around their wallets, because city officials will be requiring an extra chunk of it soon. City council members approved a 6.5 mill increase at a meeting on Aug. 9.

The increase may have come as a surprise to those who follow city politics carefully. After several weeks of discussion, council members seemed poised to increase the tax rate by 4.5 mills rather than 6.5. Ironically, the lone vote against the higher tax increase came from the one person on the council who was elected. The remaining four members are all Mayor Dave Drovetta appointees.

City officials tried to cushion the blow of raising taxes in a recession by noting that property values decreased over the course of last year.

The numbers tell a slightly different story.

While appraised property values decreased by approximately 4 percent countywide last year, the 6.5 mill increase represents more than a 25 percent property tax increase for Gardner citizens.

Although the list of governing bodies reaching farther into citizens’ pockets is dramatic, there are shining examples in which taxes have been lowered or at a minimum, remained stagnant. The leadership of such places – which includes the city and school board in Spring Hill and Johnson County officials – deserve great praise not only for their current leadership, but for the leadership in years past that allowed the current governing bodies to be in a position to hold the taxing line. Their leadership shows true character.
We wish we could say the same for Gardner. Unfortunately, the city put itself in the position of having few options. Last year, the city faced a similar deficit and refused to cut staff. They tried to exist by simply holding the line on maintenance and expansion projects. Sadly, those were one-time expenditures with little lasting impact on the budget. In order to realize long-term cost benefits, the city and governments in general, need to carefully consider staffing cuts. Had the reduction in force the Gardner officials initiated a few months before this budget season been implemented when first suggested last summer, the city likely would not have the budget hole that required a dramatic tax increase this year.

City officials are also promising that this mill increase will be reduced by 2017. No one should buy that story. It’s a rare, rare day indeed when governing bodies reduce taxes. A perfect example is the pool and park half cent sales tax. That tax is set to sunset soon, and as recently as January, the Mayor told Chamber of Commerce members at a luncheon that he’d like to see that sales tax extended to pay for roads or other needs.

Gardner residents should expect city officials to budget for the city as they would for their own businesses or their own families. Unless our council members are swimming up stream in massive amounts of debt, that doesn’t appear to be the case.