Florence town meeting addresses budget, gas tax

A public town meeting of the City of Florence was held Tuesday, April 29 to discuss the city budget.

The quarterly report was made available to attendees.

Mayor John Lehman asked for input from citizens before addressing rumors about his tax status.

Lehman said that Randy Dalke of Atmos Energy had assured council members that all revenue collected by the proposed franchise fee would be passed on to the city of Florence.

The price of natural gas has already increased around 40 percent, according to one attendee, and several people expressed concern as to why Atmos was pushing for the tax when Atmos wouldn’t receive any revenue from the franchise fee, which would be in effect for a period of five years.

Larger towns like Hillsboro and Marion were reported to have the franchise fees while smaller towns like Tampa didn’t.

Other discussions as they occurred:

A half-cent city sales tax was discussed at length. Some thought it might drive business away for very little net revenue.

Insurance has increased by around 35 percent and an increase in deductibles was discussed, as well as possible cuts to employee coverage.

Mayor Lehman noted that Kansas Power and Light, Galaxy Cable, and SWB-formerly Southwestern Bell-already have a franchise fee in effect. KP&L fees pay for the city street lights.

Attendees questioned whether property owned by the city could be sold. The football field, one of the first lighted fields in Kansas, was proposed to be used for a moneymaking event of some type.

The swimming pool was found to be costing the city more than it makes in receipts, but it was decided to be necessary to provide activities for local children.

The city is currently in charge of mowing three lots at $50 per hour. The nursing home was mentioned as a potential fourth. It was questioned whether the landowners’ wages could be garnisheed so that in the event the lots go up for tax sale the city’s investment would still be recovered.

The question was raised whether the franchise fee on gas would prohibit new gas companies from doing business in town. Currently about 10 households in Florence use propane, and new installations may be prohibited by the franchise.

The cost of permits was said to be lower than in other towns, and a raise in costs was discussed.

Moving the city’s loans to an institution with lower interest rates or into revenue bonds was discussed. Doug Eddy quoted rates from Wichita that would cut interest in half for the municipal water bonds. He said local buyers might be interested in revenue bonds.

Eddy noted that personal property tax in Florence is about 20 mills, or 10 percent higher than in Marion. He asked that the city government become more efficient on big-ticket items instead of increasing taxes.

Officer Ken Hoffman said that when the county sheriff handles drug busts, money is given to the county by the state. Former mayor Jeanie Meirowsky mentioned that the city is responsible for paying to house prisoners captured.

Meirowsky also said she’d been informed that not enough people have been killed at the intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and U.S. Highway 77 for the state to change speed limits, but Officer Hoffman said that safety as well as revenue could be increased by more enforcement of stop signs.

Mayor Lehman closed by saying that refinancing of city debt will definitely be looked into.

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