City could take a hit if state cuts initiated as governor intends

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Gov. Bill Graves’ plan to reducing funding to cities in an effort to address the state’s massive budget deficit could have significant implications for Hillsboro, city council members were told at Monday’s special meeting.

Mayor Delores Dalke said that if Graves’ plan is implemented as proposed, the city could lose up to $135,000 that was previously designated for its general fund.

“If we lose it all out of the general fund budget, I don’t know how we’ll get by,” she said.

City Administrator Steven Garrett said every state dollar cut from a city’s budget directly affects services offered to residents.

“(Graves’ plan) could force us to make some tough decisions,” he said.

Dalke said raising local taxes in an effort to replace the money lost in a cut of that size would require a mill-levy increase of about 11 mills, from about 41 to 52.

“That would have a dramatic effect on everyone in Hillsboro if we have to make it up that way,” she said.

Dalke said the League of Kansas Municipalities may file a lawsuit that would challenge the legality of the proposed cuts.

The first residents to feel the impact of the governor’s proposed reductions will be city employees. The council voted 3-0 (with Byron McCarty absent) not to approve a “longevity pay” increase this year.

The decision would save the city budget about $6,200.

The council cited the state funding cuts as the reason for their decision, but members also discussed the principle of that kind of salary enhancement.

Councilor Leonard Coryea noted the city already makes cost-of-living and merit adjustments each year. An increase for longevity in addition to merit is “almost like double dipping,” he said.

Dalke said the longevity component was adopted in 1998 when the council approved new job descriptions and pay plan for employees. The council had noted that some long-time employees were not being compensated fairly compared to newer employees who had been hired with a higher wage.

“Longevity pay was an effort to make up the difference,” she said. “It was never intended to be permanent.”

Coryea said employees have probably come to expect a longevity “bonus” after receiving one each of the past four years. Cutting it could cause some bad feelings, he noted.

Councilor Shelby Dirks said his understanding of “bonuses” in the private sector was that they were based on how well a company had done financially over the past year.

“Based on the cuts we face, this company didn’t do very well this year,” he said.

In the end, the council voted not to grant the longevity bonus this year because of budget restrictions, but also to review the policy at a later time.

Garrett said he hoped the council’s decision doesn’t communicate that the council does not appreciate its employees.

“An army runs on its stomach, and a city runs on its employees,” he said.

Dalke agreed.

“This decision has nothing to do with the quality of our employees,” she said. “We’ve never had a better group of employees than we do right now.”

In other business, the council:

approved the publication of an ordinance that would grant tax exemption for Container Services for certain properties for the purpose of economic development. The exemption would end in 2012.

accepted a bid of $42,990 from Wichita Electric to construct the entire airport lighting project. Four bids were submitted, and each offered a reduced charge if the city wanted to do the dirt work with its own employees.

Because the bid already was significantly under the amount stipulated by a federal grant that will pay for 90 percent of the project, the council decided to accept the higher bid and let Wichita Electric take care of the entire project.

approved an engineering contract with Reiss & Goodness for $3,000 to determine the precise cost of replacing the city water line along Main Street from A Street to Grand Avenue when the street is redone next year. The preliminary estimate for replacing the line was $46,000.

Renewed the city’s participation in the mutual aid program of the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency.

updated the city’s Uniform Fire Code from the 1997 version to the 2000 International Fire Code.

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