The Hays City Commission on Thursday moved the proposed 2018 budget to a public hearing, slated for Aug. 10.
While commissioners praised city staff for efforts to reduce overall spending despite giving all employees a total salary increase of 4 percent, they also had a sometimes heated discussion about outside agency funding.
Commissioners specifically discussed funding levels for the Fort Hays State University scholarship fund and Downtown Hays Development Corp. Commissioner Lance Jones repeatedly has said he does not believe DHDC should continually receive city funds.
He said so again at Thursday’s meeting, moving to cut the group’s funding by 10 percent, which is the same cut proposed for FHSU.
“This is my last budget cycle as a commissioner. I think somebody needs to hold their feet to the fire,” Jones said. “The intent was not for them to have been funded in perpetuity. I think without having this discussion every year, I think that they will continue to be funded.
“It’s not that I don’t like what they do or I don’t think they do good things for Hays. I just don’t think it’s taxpayers’ dollars that should fund them forever.”
His motion, however, died due to lack of a second. The other three commissioners present all spoke in favor of maintaining DHDC funding at an amount of $53,655.
Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV was absent, but repeatedly has agreed with Jones regarding the group’s funding.
DHDC receives public money via the Convention and Visitors Bureau account, which gets the bulk of its money from a hotel guest tax. In previous years, DHDC received half its money from CVB and the other half from the city’s general operating fund. This is the first year the full amount will come from the CVB budget.
Mayor Shaun Musil spoke sharply against reducing funding for the downtown Hays organization.
“That’s one area of town that’s continued to grow over the last three or four years,” he said. “Each time we have a conversation, every year we want to cut it because we don’t agree with what they do. I just think it’s idiotic, the message we’re sending.”
Other outside agencies, including Ellis County Historical Society, Hays Arts Council, Sister Cities and Wild West Festival also receive public money via the CVB budget, and are slated to receive approximately the same amount of funding as in previous years.
That leaves the FHSU scholarship fund and Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development as the only two agencies receiving money directly from the city’s general operating fund. Commissioners have agreed to cut the coalition’s funding by half, citing concerns about the organization’s outcomes.
The FHSU scholarship fund is slated to receive a 10-percent cut, receiving $90,000 next year. The commission was split on that issue Thursday, with Musil and Commissioner Sandy Jacobs speaking strongly in favor of holding the group’s funding at $100,000.
Jacobs repeatedly has said reducing that fund would “send a bad message.”
“I haven’t changed my opinion on that,” she said. “I really, strongly believe that message is important. When we’re talking about incremental dollars like we are, I think it’s about messaging as much as anything else.”
Both Jones and Vice-Mayor James Meier spoke in favor of the cut, noting employees had been asked to trim their budgets to help find money for staff raises. The city’s general fund relies heavily on sales taxes, which have been flat this year.
Because the commission could not reach a majority consensus Thursday, the budget will move forward with a 10-percent cut suggested for FHSU.
Since a public hearing was scheduled, commissioners cannot make changes to the budget that would increase overall spending.
While outside agency funding has been a somewhat contentious issue for city commissioners this budget cycle, Meier pointed out the total amount of public funding given to various agencies is a small percent of the city’s budget.
“Obviously, every dollar is important, but this seems to be the only thing we ever talk about. And I just always think, ‘Why do we spend so much time, money, energy, effort on such a small portion of the budget?’ ” Meier said. “And I think it’s because our city management and our employees are doing such a great job on a daily, weekly and monthly basis looking for savings and trying to do the right thing for the taxpayer.”
The city has maintained a flat mill levy of 25 for approximately a dozen years, and the 2018 budget does not call for any increases to taxes or service fees.
The commission also approved agreements with the city’s three labor unions representing police, firefighters and service employees.