Danedri Thompson
Although Gardner Electric Utility Board members have offered to inject more than $260,000 into the city’s budget in 2011, Mayor Dave Drovetta sent Randy Tedford, utility board chair, a letter saying the city council will not consider the offer until it addresses the 2012 budget.
“So as to not make any major changes outside of the normal budget process, your offer will be discussed next year in the context of the 2012 budget,” Drovetta wrote in the letter.
Last week, members of the EUB voted to increase franchise fees – dollars its pays to the city in order to operate a utility in Gardner – from 5 percent to 7 percent. Officials estimated that the move would inject more than $260,000 into the city budget. EUB members suggested that the additional funds be used for raises for city employees, but city council members would have the final say in how the extra revenue was spent.
However, council members will not consider the increased funding until budget season next summer. In Kansas, governing bodies of public entities including city councils, commissions and school boards are required to file their budgets nearly 18 months in advance. Budgets for 2011 were required to be filed with the state no later than Aug. 25, 2010.
Gardner council members approved a 2011 budget that included a 6.5 mill levy increase, or approximately $120 more for the average Gardner residence. The increased  mill levy is to makeup for a shortfall in the city’s bond and interest fund – a fund used to pay debt, however Drovetta told council members during an Aug. 16 meeting that the increase would also help improve competition for staff retention and staff satisfaction.
The 2011 budget also includes a 5 percent water rate increase and an 8 percent wastewater rate increase. The electric utility has not increased fees in the last few years, and electric director Bill Krawczyk said the franchise fee increase would not add costs to Gardner electric users. It will slow the speed at which the utility board increases its own reserves.
According to the franchise fee proposal adopted by electric board members, the 2 percent franchise fee increase would dissipate over the course of four years and return to 5 percent in 2015.
Utility board members hoped the fee increase would help the city council give    employee raises next year.
“We put a proposal in front of the board and this was a good faith effort on the part of Gardner Energy to try to help the city through this economic crisis,” Krawczyk explained.
The city has a budget shortfall, and most employees have not received salary increases since 2008. They have, however, received bonuses.
Krawczyk said city employees have also had their pension plans reduced by 75 percent and had layoffs. The city cut seven positions last spring and the 2011 budget will leave a few other positions vacant through attrition.
Mayor’s letter to electric board chair
Randy Tedford Chair
Electric Utility Board
1150 E Santa Fe
Gardner KS 66030
Dear Randy,
The EUB has made an offer to the City Council that they may consider using an increased transfer from the Electric Fund the franchise fee to help the General Fund during the economic downturn that we are experiencing. From what I understand the offer could start in 2011 and last until 2015.
The 2011 Budget has already been approved and we are soon ready to start discussions on the 2012 Budget.  So as to not make any major changes outside of the normal budget process, your offer will be discussed next year in the context of the 2012 Budget.
David C. Drovetta, Mayor