Archive for Thursday, July 19, 2001

Taxes, utilities to increase with approval of city budget

July 19, 2001

Refusing to accept a year with no capital improvement projects, the De Soto City Council directed City Administrator Gerald Cooper to prepare a 2002 budget that will increase property taxes and fees for city services.

With valuations of 1,265 of 1,293 De Soto residential properties either increasing or remaining steady, the city would have to cut its 2002 property tax levy by one-half mill from this year's 24.717 mills to prevent passing on a tax increase through increased valuations. Cooper presented the city council with a 2002 budget that reduced the city's property tax levy by two mills, but he cautioned the council it didn't include any contingency funds to address unforeseen needs.

The council found $60,000 in budget cuts to help fund the contingency fund at the $100,000 level Cooper recommended. Mayor Dave Anderson then urged the council to look beyond the mill levy.

"There's no money here for capital improvements," he said. "I think we need to do something. Don't think about the two mills; think about what you need."

The four councilmen in attendance agreed (Linda Zindler was on vacation) and directed Cooper to essentially maintain the 2001 mill levy.

"I'm willing to do that," Councilman Brad Seaman said. "We're behind the curve. We have to do something."

The move would maintain the property tax levy of that part of the city served by Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 3 at 17.288 mills.

The mill levy wasn't the only place the council went in search of revenue. Other decisions taken at the budget meeting would:

increase water, sewer and trash rates by 10 percent. Cooper estimated the increases would boost the water department's operating fund by $52,000 annually and the sewer department's by $18,000.

increase taps fees for new water and sewer connections.

explore a possible 3/4-cent sales tax that could raise more than $230,000 annually.

Cooper included the 10-percent increases in trash, water and sewer rates in his budget. They represented a 5-percent annual inflationary adjustment from the last increase of two years ago, he said.

The water rate increase was, Anderson said, a first step in getting the water department's revenues in line with costs. The city needs to stop subsidizing the water department at the expense of streets and other services, he said.

Councilman John Taylor opposed further rate increases, saying they would be a hardship to low-income and retired citizens. Instead, he proposed the council increase water and sewer connection fees a suggestion that Seaman embraced.

"We've being talking about that for a long time," Seaman said. "Why don't we just do it?"

City staff members were instructed to prepare a tap fee schedule for the council's consideration that would be comparable with that in other Johnson County cities.

Anderson said increased connection fees should be a significant revenue source next year. But, Cooper said it would be speculative to base the budget on a first-time revenue source.

That led the council back to the mill levy and the proposed 2002 budget's lack of capital improvement projects. The only monies the city sets aside for capital improvements are those collected from the excise and fuel taxes, Cooper said. This year's street improvement program emptied those accounts and it will be two to three years before there is enough money to undertake another round of improvements.

The budget the council approved will provide about $20,000 for capital improvements next year. Cooper suggested property taxes didn't offer the city a good source of capital improvement funds and again pitched the need for a 3/4-cent sales tax.

The additional sales tax authority, which would have to be approved by voters, would collect more than $200,000 annually that could be dedicated to the long list of public works improvements discussed at the meeting. The projects included:

water new waterlines, water towers and increased production capacity.

sewer new and replacement sewer lines and eventual expansion of the existing plant.

streets $436,000 of chip-and-seal, drainage and road-base upgrades that city engineer Mike Brungardt characterized as "maintenance" projects. If the council wants to consider a more aggressive program of milling and overlaying streets, it would cost from $15,500 to $19,000 per block to pave residential streets and $19,900 to $25,000 block to pave collector streets. The cost to mill and overlay one block of 83rd Street down is estimated at $39,345.

a new city pool.

Although the council members agreed there is support in the community for infrastructure improvements and the costs associated with them, they acknowledged the need to sell the fee and tax increases to residents. Help in that effort is coming in the form a five-year capital improvement program Brungardt will finish in six to eight weeks.

"If we had a good capital improvement program, we could use that to pitch a sales tax," Cooper said. "You could say, 'This is what we could do over a 10-year period with $2.5 million.'"

The 2002 budget does include two new positions a fifth employee for the street department and a full-time fireman/emergency medical technician. The new street department position restores a position eliminated last year.

Assistant Fire Chief Mike Frehe said the full-time fireman would assure coverage during daytime hours when it can be difficult to find volunteers available for fire or EMT runs.

The city council scheduled a public hearing on the budget for 7 p.m. Aug. 2 at City Hall.

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