The Marion City Council at its Aug. 1 meeting adopted the 2017 budget with a mill levy of 71.025 compared to 2016 at 71.152, but the dollar amount in 2017 is slightly higher at $713,214 compared to $710,000 in 2016.
City Administrator Roger Holter said the higher dollar amount is tied to an increase in property valuation.
He said each mill currently is worth $10,019 to the city.
Holter said the newly passed tax lid, which prohibits cities and counties from increasing their mill levies above the cost of living in any specific budget year, only affected Marion’s debt service.
“For budget year 2017, we have levied a portion of the overall ad valorem tax to cover the debt service, but in 2016 the city wasn’t able to levy any taxes for debt service,” he said.
Moving forward, Holter said one of the tax lid exemptions is debt service, which means communities will be able to increase the mill levy to cover debt payments without holding an election.
“Part of our budget workshop conversations involved the tax lid and the debt service exemption,” he said. “The council’s decision was to tell it like it is, and telling our citizens what they need to know and how the budget was constructed.”
The tax lid also has a few other exemptions, such as natural disasters and public safety. For example, Holter said, if a police car quits running, a community could increase taxes to buy a new police car without an election.
Holter said all public officials need to understand that they are simply stewards of what the people entrust to them.
If there’s a true, legitimate need for something, ask the voters,” he said. “If it’s, ‘Well, we have always done it this way,’ that’s not a legitimate reason, and that’s part of where I believe the tax lid is actually good.”
Holter said he has heard of counties contemplating raising levies as much as 30 mills.
“To me, that’s not being a good steward of what the public entrusted them to do,” he said.
When the Marion City Council had its budget workshop sessions last month, the members heard from the library, museum and airport boards and other departments about budget reductions.
One example was having the county switch from a 400 MHz band to 800 MHz broadcast.
“If the county implemented this, it would force all small communities and all the fire districts to make a huge investment in public safety to buy these radios,” Holter said.
This would be the type of expense that Holter said should go before the public for a vote.
Meanwhile the city’s street and alley budget went down after the looking at rip rap needed for the levy and how crushing sidewalks, concrete structures, curbs and other concrete items could make it suitable for that purpose.
It would be a little extra labor for recycling material, according to Holter, but a dirt-fill site could put materials right back to work. This one change saved $9,000 on the street and alley budget.
The council also approved an ordinance in the event the final valuation numbers could go up or down.
“Depending on where the valuation goes, the dollars will not change,” Holter said. “It will be levied to produce $713,214 in revenues for the city.”
Councilor John Wheeler started a discussion about residential rental inspection at the May 17 meeting. Because of some negative concerns in one publication, he had additional information to pass on.
Wheeler said the residential rental inspection program was brought up as a way to educate both landlords and tenants about their respective responsibilities.
Holter agreed, saying it was about improving prosperity for all involved. One example cited was the winterization program.
“If you are a tenant and your furnace isn’t working right, and you are low to moderate income, you as the tenant rather than the property owner can apply through East Central Kansas’ winterization program and get up to $250 for a tune-up on the furnace,” he said.
The tenant isn’t out any money and the furnace is repaired, and the landlord saved money by not having to call a repairman, he said.
“It’s a win-win,” Holter said. “We feel like not everyone understands all the resources that are available out there.”
Holter said local government’s role is to be an advocate and not to try and run or manage everything.
“Citizens can prosper, through knowledge and through grants, which a lot of people don’t understand,” he said.
The total tax state and federal load for every man, woman and child in Marion is $4,083 a year, according to Holter. When the city did its downtown project, the $900,000 grant it received equated to $455 given back to every person.
“That’s why I believe it’s important to look for opportunities that will deliver real value to our citizens, and we spend just a tiny bit compared to what money we get back,” he said.