City approves 2014 budget with slight mill levy drop




It didn't take much time Tuesday for the Garden City Commission to adopt the city's $87 million 2014 budget after making some changes that will drop the mill levy below this year's level.

Commissioners approved another $207,000 in staff-recommended cuts and revenue projections to bring the tax levy to 38.954 mills for 2014, a 0.028-mill decrease from the 2013 mill levy of 38.982.

Two weeks ago, the commission adopted a draft budget that included about a 1.2 mill levy increase. They could have adopted the draft budget with a lower mill levy then, but gave themselves wiggle room in case other changes were desired.

After a draft budget is published, the commission can only reduce the tax levy, or leave it as published; the commission cannot raise the levy.

The city was initially facing a 7.2-mill increase before staff made changes that cut more than $1 million from the budget. By making changes on the expenditure and revenue sides, the tax levy increase was reduced to 1.2 mills.

To get to the mill levy decrease, staff found additional adjustments by projecting $75,000 more in sales tax collections this year, projecting more than $30,000 more in permit and license fees next year, as well as cutting a portion of the fund that provides money for the community grant and arts grant program by about $20,000.

The city also cut in half a $20,000 requested increase to municipal pool funding; eliminated a septic tank inspection service contract that could be handled in house to save about $5,000, and postponed a $25,000 welcome sign project.

No citizens attended Tuesday's budget hearing, but City Manager Matt Allen said he received a comment by email and phone call from an individual who urged the commission not to increase the mill levy. Commissioner Chris Law said he had received calls from constituents concerned about the overall impact on people living on fixed incomes if the city, Finney County, the school district and community college all raise their levies.

The commission also adopted an ordinance attesting to an increase in tax revenues for 2014, as required by a new state law if a municipality's property tax revenue will exceed the current year's revenue. Property taxes account for about $6.5 million of the budget.

"Even though the mill levy is slightly reduced, the net property tax revenue does increase due to a change in valuation that was larger," Allen said.

The city's ordinance stated the city held a public hearing regarding the budget and determined after deliberation that it was necessary to budget property tax revenues that exceed the levy in the 2013 budget in order to maintain public services.

In other business Tuesday:

* Commissioners approved the purchase of 218 acres of land and about 439 acre feet of water rights from the Nancy Jameson family for a total of $1,151,925.

The property is located east of the bypass and south of the BNSF Railroad property, and extends south to the Arkansas River and east to Jennie Barker Road and the wastewater treatment plant with the majority of the land currently being used for crop production.

The commission authorized the mayor to sign the purchase agreement subject to the parties and legal counsel working out the final terms.

"The main point is there are 439 acre feet of water right available," Mike Muirhead, public utilities director, said. "We certainly wanted to look into that."

Muirhead said the Jamesons worked with the city as far back as the 1950s on the property where the wastewater treatment plant sits, and helped the city acquire another 11 acres north of the plant for facility expansion.

Last fall, the family was planning to put the land up for sale and asked if the city would be interested, Muirhead said.

Broken down, the water rights are valued at $1,719 per acre foot, and the land is valued at $1,821 per acre.

"There's currently not a water well on the property; we would just be obtaining the water rights," Muirhead said.

* Commissioners approved a revised, streamlined tax abatement policy and a new jobs incentive policy proposed by Finney County Economic Development Corp. The job creation incentive policy is designed to provide cash to businesses that create higher paying jobs.

The policy offers $1,000 for every quality job a company creates as part of an expansion or relocation to Finney County. The new policy is similar to the method used to aid TexOkKan in its relocation several years ago in which the company received cash for every new job created over a five-year period.

Money for the incentives would come from the joint economic development fund that the city and county contribute funds to each year, and would be limited by available funds.

The tax abatement policy streamlined the application process, clarified responsibilities and institutes a $1,000 application fee.

* Commissioners approved a waiver of eligibility requirements to allow CCS Properties, LLC, owner of 704 N. Main St., to participate in the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. Due to a misunderstanding about when to submit its application, CCS initially missed the deadline and was ruled ineligible. The commission waived a requirement that an application had to be received within 180 days of obtaining a building permit.

* Commissioners accepted a petition for a special assessment for street-scape improvements to the McCallister Building at Seventh and Laurel streets, and adopted a resolution implementing the assessment over 10 years.

Estimated cost of the improvements, which consist of removal and replacement of curb, gutter and sidewalk, new sidewalk, brick pavers, trees, and street lights, is $106,200.

The cost will be split between the property owners, Bruce Glass and Beverly Schmitz Glass, with 66 percent to be paid by the city and 34 percent by the Glasses.

* Commissioners recognized Kenny Becker, Equipment Operator II in the street department, for being chosen by the Safety Committee as the second quarter 2013 safety recognition program winner. Each quarter, employees who go above and beyond normal duties to help improve the safety of their department, or to motivate others to take an extra step with safety, are recognized.

* Commissioners approved a proclamation declaring July 16 as Lindy Bilberry Day in recognition of the 2013 Garden City High School graduate being elected to serve as the 2013-2014 State Future Farmers of America president on May 31. Bilberry will travel across the state informing people about agricultural science education and FFA.

* Commissioners approved a proclamation declaring July 17 as Capt. Rodney Bachman Day. Bachman retired from the Garden City Police Department after 22 years in law enforcement, including serving on the SWAT team, motorcycle traffic unit, Range Master, Honor Guard, and most recently on the Community Response Division as captain.

* The city has contacted a commercial appraiser for the American Legion building and will consider setting an asking price for the property at its Aug. 20 meeting.

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