The Hays City Commission unanimously approved the city’s 2018 budget Thursday, and in doing so, commended staff for their efforts to trim spending and keep taxes low.
The balanced budget does not increase taxes or service fees, and trims overall spending by approximately $200,000 despite flat city sales tax revenue and without decreasing services. Employees also will receive a 4-percent raise; department heads were tasked with “finding money” to help make that possible. Fifteen of the city’s 25 departments reduced spending for next year.
“I’m in awe of the work you guys have done,” Commissioner Sandy Jacobs told the city staff members present at Thursday’s meeting.
The budget will not raise property taxes, keeping the mill levy flat at approximately 25. The city has the sixth lowest mill levy in the state of Kansas, and the lowest outside of Johnson County, Assistant City Manager Jacob Wood said. The city’s mill levy has been at 25 or less for 11 of the last 12 years.
“That’s something that we should be proud of, being able to keep our levies low,” Wood said.
Other highlights include the city continuing to pay cash for large construction projects, such as reconstruction of Allen Street from Eighth to Vine next year, and a fully funded street maintenance program.
The budget does not call for any additional employees next year.
Total spending authority for 2018 is approximately $38 million. The city’s assessed valuation saw an increase of approximately 4 percent.
Wood provided a breakdown of the monthly cost of city taxes for an average homeowner. If a home is valued at $158,000, the monthly cost is $37.85. That amounts to $454.20 in city taxes annually.
The commission has discussed the budget proposal several times during the past few months, and outside agency funding has been the only significant sticking point. Commissioners expressed differing opinions about how much city money should be given to certain agencies.
Commissioner Lance Jones, on several occasions, has spoken in favor of reducing funds for Downtown Hays Development Corp., which will receive $53,655 in public funds. This year, the entirety of that budget request will come from the Convention and Visitors Bureau fund, largely paid by a hotel guest tax.
“You win some, you lose some,” Jones said. “I really thought DHDC’s funding should have been reduced, but I’m OK with passing (the budget) as presented.”
Funding was reduced by 10 percent for Fort Hays State University’s city scholarship program. The 2018 budget gives an allocation of $90,000 instead of the requested $100,000. Both Jacobs and Mayor Shaun Musil repeatedly had favored honoring the full request.
“I think cutting the university is a big mistake for what they bring and will continue to bring to our community,” Musil said. “It is what it is. Hopefully in the future, they’ll continue to grow and we can grow with them.”
The commission also had agreed to cut funding by half for the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development.
A public hearing was held regarding the proposed budget, but no residents were present to comment.
In other business:
• Musil read a mayoral proclamation honoring the life of Bob Schmidt, a longtime Hays resident, businessman and philanthropist who died earlier this week.
• Vice Mayor James Meier asked if the commission and city staff could discuss residential flooding concerns at a future work session, noting he has heard specifically from residents in the area of 27th and Thunderbird.
• Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV requested a future discussion of how the city can help with economic development and increasing sales tax revenue. That discussion also should include the possibility of a convention center, he said.