February 7, 2016

OUR VIEW: Citizens rejoice: Council proposes tax decrease

Gardner City Council did groundbreaking work during a marathon meeting on Aug. 4. With the city budget due to the county in less than a month, council members slogged through a series of proposed projects slashing the 2015 budget by approximately $235,000 and requesting a budget that slashes the 2015 tax rate in accordance with those cuts. That should amount to approximately a 1.75 percent rate drop – or between $10 and $15 for the average Gardner homeowner.
Council member Steve Shute initially requested to see a budget with a 2 mill decrease two weeks ago.
It was a contentious meeting, in which council members and the Mayor occasionally slipped into character assassinations rather than debating facts. However, the council did accidentally slip into a productive conversation.
Going line-by-line through proposed budget expenditures next year, council agreed to drop a series of initiatives. For example, by consensus council agreed to scratch a proposed plan to hire a consultant for $50,000 to determine how to best use a city building located on the southeast corner of Elm and Shawnee Streets. They also scrapped a $50,000 study to examine infrastructure needs at Interstate 35 and 175th Street, a $50,000 study to determine how to update the city’s downtown corridor, and $35,000 for a consultant to help the city develop a strategy for offering incentives to potential new businesses.
After the council made more than $200,000 in budget cuts, city finance director Laura Gourley said she still didn’t have enough information to draft a budget with a reduced mill levy in future years. She said the cuts council made are one-time cuts and she didn’t know where to make cuts in future years.
In other words, drafting a budget with a reduced mill rate is so groundbreaking that city staff doesn’t know where to begin in the process to make it work for future year. That’s a problem.
A lower budget doesn’t necessarily translate into a lower mill rate. Gourley explained that she will send in a proposed budget to the county including expenditures and the rate of reserves the city hopes to maintain, and the county will do the math to determine how many mills the city needs to charge in taxes in order to meet its proposed obligations for the following year.
However, the tax cut does show citizens that the council is serious about returning some of the money it absconded from citizens between 2010 and today. In 2010, council increased taxes by nearly 30 percent.
Gourley explained that those increases were necessary to offset the effects of several Gardner property owners who were in arrears in paying taxes. The owner of one property, near Celebration Park, has an annual tax bill of more than $200,000. The owner of another two properties, located east of Austin’s Bar and Grill, has an annual tax bill of approximately $800,000.
Gourley said it takes the county several years for the county to even start the collection process for properties with taxes in arrears, and it takes even longer before the city actually collects.
The city will receive roughly $130,000 for each mill it taxes next year.
The Aug. 4 meeting was an onerous exercise in budgeting, but ultimately a productive process came out of the meat grinder on Monday night. In future years, we hope council continues to parse through proposed projects when drafting a budget. And we hope council continues to try to step its mill rate back down by nearly 30 percent.
City staff appeared angry at the end of the meeting, but citizens should be gleeful.


  1. Judith Rogers says:

    And, again, I do not believe citizens realize how their own city has placed them at financial risk time and time again for years and eventually the buck stops in the citizens lap over and over again.

    Lehman and Drovetta and Council members were handing out those benefit districts to the jaybirds for years, especially from 2002 to around 2008 or so and increased the citizens debt obligations from around $22 Million all the way to right at $100 Million in 2009 or 2010. Those developers, builders, banks, savings and loan associations, LLC entities, etc. who always want the citizens to finance their wants and needs were met with a red carpet thrown out by your Gardner City Hall. When the city finances those benefit districts, they place ALL CITIZENS at risk by issuing general obligation bonds and if these entities mentioned above don’t pay their taxes or especially their assessments which are used to pay the bonds, then the citizens are left holding the bag. Right now the citizens are looking at a possible liability of over $1 MILLION because these jokers, that your politicians and bureaucrats are always chasing to come here, haven’t paid their taxes nor their assessments. Citizens already faced the biggest tax increase that Gardner had received in its history in 2010 due mostly to this same damn thing. And that same freaking year you lost your Fire Dept. which was sold along with the debts they had ran up for the fire department building on 183rd St. and that ladder truck that cost over $1 Million. Debt creates costs and you have to pay the debt payments and you have seen what happens when you take on more debt than you can afford and also since you are taking care of the thieves instead of the citizens who are always the ones who have to pick up the costly messes.

    Then what is even more slimy to me is how these same entities have been getting their “farm” appraisal classifications on their properties which they want developed at the risk of the average citizen when no farming activity whatsoever is taking place. These jaybirds were only paying probably less than $5 yearly to the city of Gardner and its citizens when they were requesting and getting their sweet deals and your city takes care of these jokers while they have contributed so little to the community and sure won’t be around after they have sold their properties with astronomical profits for themselves. I have even seen tax bills where one of the jerks was only paying 43 CENTS to the Gardner citizens each year and not much more than that to our schools. They wanted those benefit districts to finance development costs such as putting in streets, gas, electricity, sewers, water, etc. and your City Hall which includes the Councils, Mayors and city staff through the years have placed you at risk time and time again by issuing general obligation bonds for those costs – they made you, the average citizen, a co-signor on those types of debt time and time again while these jokers commit fraud, in my opinion, by getting their “farm” appraisal classifications.

    This small reduction of $235,000 is tiny compared to the BIG PROBLEMS FACING CITIZENS. At least that is my opinion and I base that opinion on my experience of working on numerous, different issues with the city of Gardner. Citizens have got to get involved in their government and be FULLY INFORMED as to what the Sam Hill is going on with their city government and then providing the needed oversight. If citizens don’t do their jobs, then they will continue to face high taxes and many, many adverse affects. Citizens haven’t even began to pay for those two new schools which created debt of $71 MILLION and more when you consider the interest we will pay on that debt.

    And then God created idiots (Mark Twain)……………….and as the years pass by, the morally corrupt idiots preside at Gardner City Hall and all the way to Congress (Judith Rogers).

  2. Walter H. says:

    It took a few hours and several disagreements for a potential reduction in the budget of $235k. I believe the city will take in at least $1 million more revenue that was projected for 2014 but has a hard time giving back $235k to those that own the money in the first place. What’s wrong with this picture?

    This isn’t a done deal. The work session is Monday night and we’ll see what happens. I don’t think the “powers that be” will not go down without a fight. They want every penny of your money they can get their grubby little hands on.

    After all we need to hire people for more studies…

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