Board members of the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development breathed a sigh of relief Thursday evening when the Hays City Commission relented on cutting funding to the coalition — with stipulations.
The coalition drew the ire of Commissioners James Meier and Lance Jones at last week’s commission meeting because the NWK Investments proposal for Big Creek Travel Plaza had typographical errors. The commission proposed decreasing funding by $25,000 to $62,550 and increasing Fort Hays State University funding to $125,000.
At the suggestion of Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV during this week’s budget hearing, the commission agreed to restore coalition funding to 2015 levels but will put all of the fund in a city account until the end of the year, giving the commission and the coalition time to resolve their differences. A line item will be created called economic development activities.
“We owe it to that entity to give them time to respond to our concerns and come back with a plan that is mutually agreeable to the coalition and the city,” he said.
The funds are normally dispersed in January.
“Thank you very much for your consideration in returning funding to the ECCED,” said Kurt David, chairman of the ECCED board. “We have had many discussions, fruitful and timely, since last Thursday. I think we’ve made a lot of progress.
“Already the two groups are working together to start formulating the job description and strategic plan that needs to happen to meet your needs and requirements,” he told the commission. “I see no challenges in meeting something by Dec. 31. I think it’s going to happen much more quickly than that.”
Commissioner Shaun Musil asked the coalition to come to more commission meetings and report on activities.
“I appreciate the support the commissioners are giving us to work out some of the wrinkles in our process,” said Aaron White, executive director of the coalition. “I’m very confident we can work together and improve on our interaction on projects seeking incentives and be able to put together a process that is very satisfactory to the city commission.”
The coalition is a conduit of information for the developer, does a review, but does not create proposals, White said.
All of the outside agencies will be at the 2015 level.
“We do have a policy that agencies aren’t allowed to increase unless they can demonstrate sufficient need,” Schwaller said.
The Hays Sister Cities program will be transferred to the Convention and Visitors Bureau and called community relations, remaining a volunteer board.
After a public hearing, the commission approved the city of Hays 2016 budget with the changes to the outside agencies. The mill levy assessment will stay at 25 mills, the level it has been for several years.
The owner of a $100,000 home pays $250 in city property tax.
The assessed valuation of the city is $214,350,798, an increase of 5 percent, City Manager Toby Dougherty said. The city does not have any oilwells in the city limit, so the decrease in oil prices doesn’t affect the city.
The total budget is for $37,420,454, which is higher than 2015 because of cash carryover and the increase in sewer rates, which increases revenue, he said. Last year, the budget was $34,141,900.
The number of employees will remain the same, but each employee will receive a raise of $2,050. Dougherty said at some of the lower and mid-level jobs, the city was beginning to have problems with hiring and retention.
The city anticipates a 1-percent increase in sales tax revenue. The sales tax funds city services, parks, police, fire department, public works, buildings and grounds, the swimming pools and the sports complex.
“It is a balanced budget with money going into reserves,” he said. “It continues the process of pay as you go for most large capital projects.”