Since 1991, Hays has grown 18 percent in population, 50 percent in land area, 62 percent in employees paid through the general fund and 100 percent in general fund expenditures.
City parks have expanded to 365 acres with 11 employees to 840 acres with 19 employees.
This type of growth is not sustainable, Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty told the Hays City Commission at Thursday’s work session.
This is why the city is taking a hard look at future growth.
“Our general fund expenditures are increasing faster than our revenue,” Dougherty said. “A lot of new growth is not paying its way.
“Unless we do something different, then some changes nobody likes are probably going to happen.”
That’s why the city has embraced the Strong Towns philosophy, which promotes infilling instead of ever-expanding outward growth. Dougherty said he has spoken to various organizations and the response has been mostly positive.
The city has been working behind the scenes to continue researching the true costs of maintaining infrastructure, and the factors that affect revenue.
When they calculate the addition of a new residential neighborhood, they have begun adding costs for water use and availability, utility size, street needs and liabilities, storm water management and potential revenue. They will conduct a cost benefit analysis; look at green space and transportation needs.
Part of that change is ensuring fees for services include money to fund infrastructure improvements.
The new rates for sewer just recently passed by the commission include a percentage that will pay for maintaining the plant.
Dougherty told the commission that water rates will see a small increase to pay for projects in the near future.
The street maintenance is underfunded, he said. When past generations added new streets, they failed to take into account future maintenance.
The city has never had a dedicated funding source to cover street maintenance. The city needs to be spending $3 million per year to maintain and replace streets but is spending far less, Dougherty said.
There is a disconnect between what it actually costs to maintain a residential neighborhood and the total cost of infrastructure, he said.
The city leans heavily on sales tax to pay for city services, and residential neighborhoods don’t generate sales tax.
“We as a society decided we want to keep our property taxes low and let people from outside of Hays help pay for the services that they use,” Dougherty said.
The state of Kansas has declining revenue and are passing on more costs to the city through unfunded mandates, he said. This will also affect the city’s budget.
“We want to be proactive and be prepared when those things happen,” Dougherty said. “These are all things we have to keep an eye on.”
Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV said he was in favor of Strong Towns.
He said the city is overcoming decisions that were made decades ago, including areas, such as Commerce Parkway that have full infrastructure, but don’t have growth. Some of those decisions were due to economic circumstances.
“To me it is an accumulation of things,” he said.
However, he did not want to appear anti-growth.
“I do know a lot of parcels are available in the city limits that can be developed in this manner,” Schwaller said. “I’m just concerned that our message be honed a little bit.”
Dougherty will provide calculations on smaller residential developments within the city limits and how those would look with a house, garage and a yard.
“Strong Towns is a way of life for us,” Dougherty said. “We’re trying to look at what’s best for everybody in the community —long term.
“From our standpoint, it’s the new normal. This is how we are doing business.”
They are developing a website to help simplify the message and make it available to the public.