Corbin H. Crable
Gardner City Council members approved the city’s 2011 budget at an Aug. 16 meeting, and the budget includes a 6.5 mill rate increase for local property owners.
That number translates into an extra $120 paid per year for homeowners with an assessed home value of $160,000.
Council President Todd Winters cast the lone dissenting vote, advocating instead for a 4.5 mill increase, which the governing body has discussed as a possibility at previous meetings and work sessions. The mill increase will make up for a shortfall in the city’s Bond and Interest Fund.
“I’m still for the 4.5 mill increase,” Winters told the council. “It can always be raised later if necessary.”
Winters added that he understood why his fellow council members voted for a 6.5 mill increase – without it, the city would have had to dip into its reserve funding and use $300,000 to balance the budget for fiscal year 2011. The city already has transferred in $100,000 to the Bond and Interest Fund from the reserves it holds.
Other council members, including Kristy Harrison and Dan Newburg, who only last week had spoken in favor of a 4.5 mill increase but admitted they were still largely undecided, explained their reasoning for voting for a 6.5 increase.
“I have changed my mind and will support the 6.5 mill increase,” Newburg said. “City employees have suffered enough, and it is not their fault that the economy has done what it has done.”
Harrison said she, too, would support the 6.5 mill increase because of the financial uncertainty of the next few years.
“Since we have no concrete plans on addressing the $300,000 debt, I’m also for the 6.5 mill increase,” she said.
Council member Brian Broxterman said he had spoken with several Gardner residents and that they, too, seemed receptive to a larger mill increase for 2011.
“Many of the people I’ve spoken to want to go with the 6.5 mill increase,” Broxterman said. “It’s more prudent.”
Both Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta and Council Vice President Steve Hale reaffirmed their belief that a larger mill increase would better serve Gardner citizens in the long run.
“I’m in favor of the 6.5 mill increase,” Hale said. “Our city staff has made sacrifices. I feel safer for our citizens to go with this level right now.”
But, Hale said, the council realizes the impact the mill increase will have on local residents.
“There’s no one voting for this who doesn’t have a pit in their stomach,” he said.
Drovetta said he agreed, adding that a higher mill rate will keep Gardner more competitive in the realm of staff satisfaction and retention.
“Anyone who has attended these meetings knows where I fall on this,” he said. “We’re whittling dangerously away on our reserves. Other communities are providing increases in pay and compensation, and other cities are approving mill increases as well.”
The 2011 budget also includes 5-percent water and 8-percent wastewater increases, as well as an additional $112,000 in line item cuts, staff positions that will remain unfilled and a decrease in the number of full- and part-time employees. A round of layoffs in early May also eliminated six positions within the Community Development Department. In all, according to City Administrator Stewart Fairburn, expenditures for 2011 number nearly $9 million.
The city must submit the 2011 budget to the Kansas Secretary of State by Aug. 25.
After taking a short break for the remainder of the month, the council will reconvene at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7 at City Hall, 120 E. Main St. City Hall will be closed Monday, Sept. 6 in observance of the Labor Day holiday.