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City reviews budget proposal PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 10 August 2017 11:46


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ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part two of the story recapping the most recent meeting of the Liberal City Commission Tuesday evening. This part will cover the approved budget for 2018 and other matters discussed during the meeting


After the heated beginning of the meeting, the atmosphere during Tuesday evening’s Liberal City Commission meeting was able to cool off to discuss the 2018 budget, which was led by City of Liberal Finance Director Chris Ford. 

“For our public hearing tonight, I’d like to start off by saying back on July 20, we had a very fruitful work session for our 2018 budget,” Ford began. “As you know, we are under a mill levy cap beginning this year. There were some things we’re going to have to do a bit differently this year. We did publish the Notice of Budget Hearing in the High Plains Daily Leader & Times July 28, 2017, and it contains a proposed total budget amount of $41,796,000, and that is comprised of a mill levy dollar amount of $6,181,703, and an estimated mill levy amount of 51.789 mills, which  is based on the July 1 estimated valuation from the county. The good news with this is with our proposed 2018 budget, we are proposing a budget which, based upon the estimated valuation, equates to the exact same number of mills levied for in the 2017 budget. Now with that, saying this is based on that estimated valuation ... as you’re aware, July 1, when the county makes its estimate, sometimes there are some different protests and things that have to be worked through. Therefore, Nov. 1, when the valuation is finalized, there could actually be some change to that valuation. But in effect, we would still be requesting a levy amount of $6,181,703.”

Ford added with the 2018 valuation, the City did have a slight increase in overall valuation, and that amount was more than the 2017 assessed valuation. Therefore, he said, an additional $64,979 would be generated based upon the proposed budget.

“As a result of that and to maintain compliance with the new State of Kansas mill levy cap law, we are required to adopt a resolution to express we are levying additional mill levy dollars in 2018 above the mill levy dollars that were levied for in 2017,” Ford said. “But I want to emphasize this is not a mill levy increase, this is as a result of the increase in the valuation amount per mill. Therefore, accordingly, I have prepared a resolution to address this to meet the state’s mill levy cap law. In addition, should the budget be adopted, we will publish a summary of the budget adoption to include the vote summary, the requested property tax amount, and the mill levy amount once everything’s said and done.”

Ford said it has been an exciting budget year for the City. 

“It’s been a very exciting budget year with regard to the city commission, all the city staff, everybody’s in line wanting to do good work, maintain the level and quality of services they provide, and at minimal costs as possible,” Ford said.

“This is my third budget, and every year, we’ve stayed within our budget or lower,” Liberal Vice Mayor Tony Martinez said. “And the good news is, we could even come in lower in November with the way things are growing. With that  $64,979, I hope that continues, some of the new stuff coming in, it’s going to make the taxpayers happy.”

“It’s very impressive to see how it works when all the department heads put all their figures together and make it to where we understand it,” commissioner Dean Aragon added. “A lot of hard work goes into it, so we appreciate you and all the department heads and what they do to keep our costs down.”

Ford added his own praise for the teamwork that went into the budget, saying everyone worked well together and did a tremendous job.

“In my time, I believe we have only – and begrudgingly – raised the mills, two or maybe three outside, and we have pared down 23 employees,” Liberal Mayor Joe Denoyer said. “But with the mill levy cap the future commissions will have to deal with ... as costs rise from healthcare to costs of services, this could create a problem, and I know the legislature is working. I don’t think they’ll ever have the votes to rescind the mill levy cap, but I do think they will make some exemptions to where it should ease the burden. But if this continues as it is right now, we could see services suffer in the city. Instead of trash collection in the city twice a week, that could turn to once a week. It has tied the hands so much, services could end up suffering as the costs of living and the costs of services continue to rise. I know our staff is very diligent in keeping costs down and working with the bare necessities.”

After some final questions, the commission ultimately unanimously voted to approve the 2018 budget, along with the unanimous adoption of Resolution No. 2268, which concerns expressing the property taxation policy of the City of Liberal for the 2018 budget. 

“I think the public needs to be reminded we’re at the tail end of a recession, we’re not completely out of it yet,” Liberal Police Chief Al Sill said. “For the past several years during that, the mill levy’s been held tight, the budget’s been held tight. Each year, you guys congratulate and commend staff about the good work they do, but there’s a lot of people out there who don’t understand who’s truly behind the success of this city. We’ve gone through this recession with probably less minimal debt compared to other cities. We’ve managed to maintain services throughout this recession without increasing our debt ratio, and really, you can thank Mark Hall for that. I appreciate the comments thanking staff, but really, we’re working under the direction of the city manager, he’s the one who’s laid out the plan, he’s the one who’s developed the plan, he’s the one who implements the plan at your direction. So you need to give yourselves a pat on the back as much as you do us, because the direction you’ve provided, the direction Mark Hall’s provided, has allowed us to survive through the recession.”

The commissioners’ comments at the end of the meeting continued praise of city staff with recent work, and also praised the candidates who advanced past the Aug. 1 primaries. 

“When I ran for commissioner in 2015, everybody wanted economic growth and to keep taxes down,” Martinez said. “Things are growing. Maybe we don’t have industry like we want, but we’re trying. And to the possible new commissioners out there, I’m going to tell you, I had a misconception of how the sales tax worked, but now, after three times ... I’ve been here two and a half years and I’m still learning. It’s a lot different than you think. I look forward to working with you guys and I appreciate your running. Mark Hall is our only employee of these five people right here. We don’t always agree with what he says, but I will go down and ask and find out. But as far as calling me a ‘lame duck commissioner’ and all that, that’s alright. I have never known a harder working man, I don’t like a liar or a thief, and this man has never lied to me, and I don’t see any back-door deals or anything. Our city’s in great shape, we’re in the black, so what do these people want out there, I don’t understand it.”

“I’ve been with the City for 30 years and I’ve been through many, many city managers,” City of Liberal Streets Superintendent Daniel Zuniga added. “It comes from my heart to say Mark Hall cares for the community, he cares about the people, he cares about everything going on in the city. I don’t see why all these people out there are saying what they are about him. If you want to get to know him, talk to him before you say anything. Once you get to know him, you’ll be impressed. Like I said, I’ve been through many city managers, and he is one who definitely cares for the community and taxpayers.”

“And a good person to talk to about any boss are the ones who work beneath them,” Denoyer added. “And I think that’s the best judge of character right there. I would also like to clear up City Manager Hall has never been the finance director. He started with the city as the HR director, and then he moved from there to the assistant city manager position, and then to city manager.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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