Hold on to your wallets, citizens of Gardner.
Though the proposed 2016 city budget will likely not result in tax or utility rate increases, city staff aren’t ruling out exorbitant increases in outer years. That’s despite a budget proposal that should yield almost a 30 percent increase in revenue next year due to two factors: a Walmart tax increment financing expiration and an increase in average property values.
Meanwhile, city officials are asking citizens to increase sales tax for the next 10 years to fund street maintenance. Just to recap: That’s a terrible plan. It’s not that the city doesn’t have road maintenance needs. On the contrary, the city roads are in need of repair and upkeep. However, the city neglected road maintenance over the past several years, because officials needed to use general fund revenue to pay for pool and park debt.
Citizens approved that sales tax to fund the Gardner Aquatic Center and Celebration Park, but as is often typical where bureaucrats are concerned – officials overestimated how much money the sales tax would raise. When sales tax revenues fell short to pay debt on the pool and park, the city used the general fund to pay diverting money from things such as street maintenance.
Now, officials say, the city has needs and no cash. Maybe it’s time we start funding needs before wants. Despite requesting that citizens grant a sales tax increase on a September ballot initiative, city officials continue to suggest that won’t be enough to satisfy future wants. Specifically, Laura Gourley, city finance director, told city council members during a July 13 city council meeting that the city of Gardner is dramatically understaffed. She arrived at that conclusion by comparing the ratios of city staff to population in similar cities. For example, Gourley told council that Warrensburg, Mo., with a population of approximately 19,000 has 165 fulltime employees. Warrensburg, she noted, does not operate its own utilities. Gardner, in comparison, staffs three utilities and boasts a population of approximately 20,000 people, but the city has only 138.5 fulltime employees.
“We’re still at a considerable staffing debt to plan for growth,” she warned council members.
It’s difficult to say this nicely, so we’ll say it honestly: Although other taxing entities may do it, making staffing decisions by comparing one city to another is stupid.
Does anyone think Microsoft Corporation makes staffing decisions based on the size of Apple Corporation’s staffing? Of course not. Staffing decisions in the private sector are based on need, not on how other companies are staffing.
The July 13 staffing presentation was an attempt to indoctrinate council to ideas that are best suited to the dustbins of wishful thinking.
And now we must wonder: City officials are now seeking a sales tax increase for street maintenance. We note that Olathe floated a similar proposition recently. Did Gardner officials make the determination to seek extra money simply because a neighboring community did? It appears that may be the way Gardner officials draw conclusions. That’s not a best practice. Here’s hoping officials work smarter next time, because that logic – comparison – doesn’t fly.