A divided Gardner City Council passed a 2012 city budget that raises water and wastewater rates but taxes properties at the same rate as the 2011 budget.
With the new budget, the owner of a $155,000 home in Gardner will pay $2765 — the same as they paid in 2011 if their property values remained flat, but the increase in water and wastewater utilities will add approximately $3.25 in additional monthly utility costs to the average household in 2012.
Council members Chris Morrow and Larry Fotovich questioned different aspects of the budget prior to its passage. Morrow asked council to find a way to hire at least one new police officer next year.
Initially, the governing body reached a consensus to hire as many as three new officers. They planned to fund the expenditure using revenues from refinancing the Walmart TIF. However, city officials learned the refinancing could not be used for general expenditures, and the requested funding for officer additions was removed from the 2012 budget.
“Is there some way to get (Police) Chief (Ken) Francis and the police another officer?” Morrow asked.
“Since we found out about the Walmart TIF, there’s been no council discussion about it.”
Mayor Dave Drovetta said council does need to set priorities for such future expenditures, however the city’s budget had to be approved at the Aug. 15 meeting in order to submit it to the state by its statutory deadline.
“We’ve had two work sessions since we learned about the TIF,” Drovetta said. “There were a couple of opportunities to bring it up.”
Council members did debate budget issues during those two work sessions, but the addition of police officers were not items on the agenda.
Drovetta said he would like to see council members come up with plans on how they can add police officers in the future.
“I don’t dispute the need for officers. I don’t dispute the needs road projects. We need to address this in the longer term instead of ‘let’s do it and hope we can get through the next year and hope we recover,’” Drovetta said.
“I gathered by the lack of comment at other meetings that everyone was in agreement with staff,” council member Brian Broxterman said.
Council member Larry Fotovich asked if all council members agreed with a $95,000 expenditure for a new dump truck in the 2012 budget. He also wondered if council members approved of a $60,000-plus increase in the 2012 budget that will fund 3 percent cost-of-living raises for city employees.
“The tactic of waiting until the last minute is not good government,” Drovetta told Larry after the council voted 3-2 to pass the proposed budget.
“Spending money you don’t have is not good government. We’re talking about it. It’s on the agenda. So I’m talking about it,” Fotovich said.
The $8.7 million general fund budget in 2012 is approximately 2 percent higher than the 2011 budget.
Interim City Administrator Melissa Mundt said the tight 2012 budget limits road and utility projects, and does not include any parks projects.
City finance director Laura Gourley said the budget was crafted using conservative estimates, and it maintains 30 percent in expenditures in the city’s reserves or remaining balance at the close of the 2012.
In other business, council members:
• passed an ordinance and related resolutions to issue $1.3 million in bonds to finance the Prairiebrooke benefit district. Property owners in the benefit district will be responsible for repaying bond holders through special assessments.
During the discussion, bond consultant Tom Kaleko, told council the city received a AA3 bond rating from Moody’s.
• passed a series of resolutions designed to put all city fees into one resolution. Mundt told council the change would make fees easier for interested parties to find fees related to development.
• adopted a resolution authorizing the city to procure property and liability coverage from MPR Kansas.
• directed staff to work with Council member Chris Morrow to seek recommendations to create a committee that will study options related to creating a public-private partnership in which a company would manage Gardner’s electric, water and wastewater utilities.
Gardner council approves 2012 budget with split vote