Eudora News and Information – www.eudorareporter.com
Every year, August is the month that both the City and School District grapple with their budgets for the upcoming year. After raising the mill rate last year to help pay for the new Public Safety building, the City Commission has decided to forgo some projects and hold the mill levy rate at its current level.
For the city, they are actually reducing spending by approximately $235,000. The cuts are coming in a tightening of several budget areas but not at the cost of eliminating staff. The original plan was to have a 3% raise pool for the staff. That was reduced to a 2.5% pool for each department. Proposals were on the table to, among other things; add batting cages at the Parks and Rec Department. Public Works was looking to replace some equipment that is nearing their end of life and both the Police and Fire Departments were looking for equipment upgrades. None of those projects made it through the city’s budget process.
“We need to pull it back this year and be lean,” Mayor Ruth Hughs said during a budget workshop. “Then we can see where we go in the future.”
City Manager Mike Press discussed with the City Commission about the cities reserve funds. He told Commissioners while having too little in reserves is not a good practice, the reverse of having too much in reserve is also not good practice. Press recommended that the city should spend down some of the reserves in excess. While city officials agreed with the principal, some of the Commission was skittish about spending much of those reserves.
In the end, the city passed a $14,423,225 budget for 2014 with no raise in the mill levy or fees for city services.
The School District did not follow suit of the city and decided to add 3.008 mills to the levy this year. Last year the School District held steady with no increases in the mill levy, but stated it was not possible to do it again this year. School Superintendent Don Grosdidier and new Finance Director Jason Oehlert told the School Board that the declining rate of state aid on the Local Option Budget over the past four years has taken a toll on districts like Eudora with lower property wealth.
Grosdidier also talked about how the District continues to wrestle with low assessed valuation per pupil, which also has not grown according to the conservative projections at the time of the 2007 bond. In the Board Briefs from the budget hearing it stated that the lack of projected revenue growth in assessed valuation has required the district to raise more mills to meet the financial obligations on bond and interest.
“The fact that the state is not equalizing the LOB like it supposed to has a very negative effect on property poor districts like Eudora,” Grosdidier said to the Board. “Our low assessed valuation creates a dependence for us on state aid and any decrease in state aid is going to cause a very disproportionate increase in our mill rate.”
Grosdidier reiterated that people need to lobby the state legislators to equally fund all school districts. He talked about how the property rich districts are able to easily fund their schools, but towns without many business or high property values cannot keep up.
“If this trend continues for Eudora, our patrons are going to get less and pay more.”
The School Board approved a General Fund budget of $9,217,341 for the 2013-2014 school year. While full line items of any cuts were not given to the public, Grosdidier has stated during past years budget discussions that the district has made numerous cuts and there are no easy cuts left to make.
The mill levy for the Eudora School District will now be 75.143 mills. For a home valued at $150,000, this means the School District taxes will be $1250.22. The 3.008 mill addition means that number has increased by $51.75.
For comparison, the Eudora School District has the second highest mill levy rate in the area. De Soto hits the top of the charts with 81.78 mills. Lawrence, Tonganoxie, Baldwin, Gardner, Basehor and Wellsville have school district mill rates lower than Eudora. Wellsville, at the cheapest, comes in at 59.897 mills.
They City of Eudora has begun taking a look at designs for a proposed public safety building to be located at 10th and Main streets in downtown Eudora.
City Council members and city officials were recently presented with preliminary conceptual drawings based upon ideas of what the City Council wanted to see in the look of a new building and what officials deem necessary to support services such as Fire, EMS and Police needs.
The current fire station was graded as poor to failing in management audits conducted in 2010. Since those audits were released to the Council, they, along with City administration, have been studying the issue on how to increase those grades.
A new building does not come without a price though. Current estimates to build the facility would require a mill levy increase for the city property taxes. Currently, that increase is projected to be 2.85 mills. As an example, a house valued at $150,000 would see an increase of approximately $49 per year on their property taxes. The level of the mill levy increase is not set in stone as of this moment either. City leaders state that the number could move either up or down depending on multiple factors.
“Douglas County expects that property valuations will go down 1.5 percent in the coming year,” City Administrator John Harrenstein said. “A decrease in assessed valuation may impact the amount of mill levy needed for the building.”
Harrenstein also stated that anticipated growth in the city could help offset some of the mill increase.
“With businesses like Family Dollar opening soon, the effects of a decrease in assessed valuation may be mitigated by economic growth.”
In an attempt to control the cost and to give the Council an option in proceeding forward, the project will be a bid with the Police Department as part of the building and without the Police Department addition. If the project ends up moving forward without the Police Department portion, the Police would use the current facility that houses both the Police and Fire Departments.
This is an artist’s concept view of the proposed public safety building. The building would sit at an angle at the corner of 10th and Main. In this drawing, 10th street would be running across the top of the photo from left to right and Main Street runs on the right hand side with the fire station driveway having access to both streets.
This project does not necessarily have complete unanimous support from all of the City Council either.
“I know the need is there,” Eudora City Councilman Kenny Massey told us. “But I’m leery with the economy the way it is and the property valuations likely going down.”
Councilman Tim Reazin also is concerned about the possible tax increase.
“I thought that we were supposed to do this without a tax increase. That is not really what I was hoping for,” Reazin said.
Reazin added that, as a former volunteer firefighter for the department, he knows the need is there.
“The current building has a safety concern. A safer environment for our firefighters is what concerns me.”
While other members of the Council are concerned about the tax ramifications, several talked about the need of a new fire station.
“This is a necessary structure and fulfills the need of the community,” Councilman John Fiore told us. “Anyone who has toured the current facility can certainly see that need.”
Councilwoman Ruth Hughs also focused on the need of the building.
“As a taxpayer who owns a home, I know it’s a sizable increase,” Hughs said. “I also know that my safety is worth something too. I’m hoping for ambulance service down the road and right now, we do not have a place to put one.”
Hughs went on to state that in discussions she has had with County officials, she was told that the current building would not be able to support the staff needs to have an ambulance stationed in Eudora. Currently, if a call is made to 911 and an ambulance is required, it has to come from Baldwin City or Lawrence.
Mayor Scott Hopson, while not a voting member of the Council, was also supporting the efforts to erect a new building.
“The tax increase does concern me, but we’ve made steps to try and save as much money as possible from day one,” Hopson said. “We’ve got our backs up against the wall because of the condition of the current building.”
Massey and other Council members will have an opportunity to talk about plans, possible tax increases and all things related to the proposed building in a special City Council meeting set for March 20 at 7:00 PM at Eudora City Hall. As with all City Council meetings, the public may attend this meeting.
“I want to be confident that we are not short changing other projects or city employees by doing this,” Massey told us. “My hard questions will come when we start talking about the price and how we are going to pay for it.”