Corbin H. Crable
Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta briefed local residents on a variety of issues related to the city, including the budget and local economy, at a Sept. 18 town hall meeting.
The meeting, held at City Hall, was one of a series of gatherings that began in March and are designed to educate the public on Gardner-related issues and take comments and questions from those in attendance. The next meeting will take place in late October.
The Gardner City Council, with its approval of the city’s fiscal year 2011 budget, approved what Drovetta called “the first significant mill increase in years,” while decreasing spending 5 percent from last year’s budget. The 2011 budget also includes no raises for city staff and several position freezes.
“Yet with that, we still had a significant shortfall,” Drovetta said, “and the primary reason for that was debt.”
Drovetta said street maintenance projects created a large amount of debt for the city, which would attempt to reduce the mill rate each year and completely eliminate the 2011 6.5 mill increase by the year 2017.
On average, the increase amounts to an additional $10 paid per single-family household, per month.
“We recognize it is an increase, but the value (in the quality of city services) we will continue to see is worth it,” Drovetta said.
In addition to the mill rate increase, the 2011 budget includes sewer rate increases of 8 percent and water rate increases of 5 percent – in all, an additional $80 paid per single-family household, per year.
“The goal of the council is to make these increases temporary and eventually reduce these costs,” Drovetta noted.
Former Gardner City Council member Bob Page told Drovetta that in addition to high costs of street maintenance projects, housing market woes have also translated into more money paid by Gardner residents.
“The reason the taxes are higher is because you’re not building 250 homes per year,” Page told the audience.
Drovetta said he agreed.
“That’s the key,” he said. “And we’ve gone from 250 homes per year essentially to zero. But in 1995, we went from having one Planning Commission meeting per month to two per month – the growth rate was that high.”
In addition to the city’s budget, Drovetta also discussed economic development within the city.
He said that according to BNSF, all contractor bids for the intermodal facility are in, and a contractor will be selected sometime next month. After that, BNSF will issue the notice to proceed by the end of the year, and the contractor will break ground sometime in spring 2011.
Drovetta said that Demdaco, a Leawood-based company that produces and sells figurines and collectibles, once expressed interest in constructing a warehouse on the logistics park property but likely will find another location for the facility. He said Demdaco had originally wanted the warehouse to be fully operational by April, but that work on the intermodal and logistics park site will only be beginning then.
Drovetta also noted that representatives from home improvement chain Lowe’s, which once was in talks to open a store in Gardner, have once again expressed an interest in building here. Also, Drovetta and City Administrator Stewart Fairburn said there has been interest expressed by businesses wishing to occupy the old Whiskey Creek building in town, but they would not elaborate on whom.
Finally, Drovetta updated the audience on the city’s annexation boundary talks with the city of Edgerton (see related story in this edition).
“They feel they have a right to the land around the intermodal,” Drovetta said. “Our standpoint is that their current proposal is not acceptable.”
Page urged Drovetta and other city officials to remain steadfast in their own proposal.
“(Edgerton) has plenty of growth to the north and west of their boundaries, and there’s no evidence they can even take care of the utilities they’d need,” Page said. “But you’ve got to stick to your guns.”
Drovetta assured Page the city has no plans to waver regarding a specific section of the affected property – Waverly Road.
“We think U.S. 56 is important, we think Waverly is important. We’re not as concerned about the north,” he said. “But we’re locked into (the city’s decision regarding) Waverly.”
The next town hall meeting will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 23 at City Hall, 120 E. Main St. The topics for the meeting have not yet been announced, but they will be posted on the city’s website at www.gardnerkansas.gov before the meeting takes place.