Mayor candidate: Ken Wagner
Name: Ken Wagner
Occupation: Owner/manager of Heritage Tractor, Inc.
Years lived in Baldwin City: 12
Family: wife Diane; two sons – Jeff and Phillip
Political experience: Serving second term on Baldwin City Council
1. What is the biggest economic challenge facing Baldwin City’s budget?
The budget for 2009 is in pretty good shape. The property valuation is a firm figure, as is the mill levy. We have lost some dollars that we receive from the state, primarily in the liquor tax area. Sales tax revenue is meeting projections. We will be affected some on failure to collect property tax on foreclosed property, but the extent is not yet known.
This past month, the council asked for voluntary reductions on some budgeted items, and received cooperation from the city administrator. The city administrator identified approximately 8 percent of the budget that can saved this year. We have suspended the purchase of two city vehicles, as well as approximately $40,000 of computer technology upgrades that were planned in 2009. We also suspended all non-essential out-of-town training and travel until further notice. Action was also taken not to fill two budgeted staffing positions that are considered open (fire chief and a police officer). In addition, the city council agreed to forego the minimal monthly stipends that we receive for the remainder of 2009.
Looking forward, our electric utility is facing some shortfalls in the amount of revenue we have budgeted to place into the utility reserve. This is due primarily to selling less power, and the price of our purchased power has increased substantially due to fuel price adjustments from entities that we purchase power from. This is going to be an issue that will have to be discussed and action taken.
I feel the challenge with the budget will be in the 2010 fiscal year. Budgeted expenses will have to be reduced in order to hold the line on tax rates. I fully expect our assessed valuations will be down in 2010 when the figures are available. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 5 percent reduction in assessed valuation. Budget cuts will have to be made in order to hold our mill levy at current levels.
We need to encourage growth in our community so that we can offset some of these budget problems with more rooftops (both residential and commercial), so we can reduce the burden on taxpayers and spread our fixed costs of operating the city over a bigger base. If successful in doing this, we can make Baldwin City an affordable place to live.
2. How can the city save money during these tough economic times?
In any organization, there are expenses that can be reduced or eliminated. The city is no different. If elected mayor, I will ask the city administrator to develop budget scenarios of 5-, 10- and 15-percent reductions. In other words, what will our city services look like, if we have to reduce our budget by these amounts if the economy continues to falter? I think it is important to do planning now as a contingency, so if you need to act, you are not playing catch up. Additionally, each department manager must act in a responsible way to cut waste. They must ask each of their employees to do the same.
Any non-essential capital expenditure should be placed on hold. Employment levels should be analyzed in all areas and determinations made if staffing levels are adequate or excessive. Decisions should be made accordingly. We also should look at the viability of layoffs in every department within the city.
3. What do you want to accomplish as mayor, i.e. why are you running for office?
I am running for mayor because I believe my style of leadership is needed in this community. I believe we need to communicate a vision for this community. I believe we need to work on making Baldwin an affordable community in which to live. In order to do that, I believe we need to make our city employees accountable for their decisions and actions. They are employed to serve the citizens of this community. I will expect that to happen if elected mayor. Additionally, I believe we need to encourage investment in our community. We need to grow with the times. I believe we need to encourage people to join us in this community by building and buying homes, creating businesses in our community, relocating an existing business to Baldwin, creating local employment opportunities, etc. We need a mayor and city council that will be committed to move this community forward and put the people in place that will make that happen. I strongly believe we need to operate this city more “business like” and that starts with customer service. My business philosophy centers around exceptional customer service, and I believe we need to instill that attitude in our city government.
4. Do you favor requiring the Baldwin School District to pay for improvements to Elm Street from 11th Street and extending Elm to Bullpup Drive as part of the project to build a new Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center? This topic is being discussed currently. We are awaiting preliminary engineering estimates on what the Elm Street and Bullpup Drive street extensions will cost taxpayers. The school board has plans to extend Bullpup Drive south to Elm Street and then build Elm street west to hook into the existing Lawrence Street. At this point, I believe the extension of Bullpup Drive south and the building of Elm Street west of Bullpup to Lawrence Street is a school district responsibility and they have communicated their willingness to do that.
The issue that needs to be decided is if the city will require Elm Street to be developed east of Bullpup and tied into 11th Street. Currently, there are traffic studies being conducted to determine a recommendation. I am interested to see what the engineering study will recommend on this issue. At a minimum, if the planning commission and engineering study suggests that improvements need to be made to Elm Street all the way through, I think the improvement of Elm Street from 11th Street to the Midland Railroad project should be a city project. The extension of Elm west to Bullpup from the Midland Railroad property should probably be a school district project. That is my preliminary thoughts on the issue and would certainly listen to the suggestions as they are made in the future
5. Utility rates in Baldwin City are among the highest around, especially for electricity. Do you see any way to reduce those rates or at least stop their spiral upward?
This is a very big issue in my view. Ratepayers in Baldwin have high electric rates. I realize that because I, too, pay large electric bills. In 2001, the city council decided to invest in improving our electric production and distribution capabilities. I was on the council at that time and felt we exhausted all avenues of selling the utility to KCPL, Westar, etc. Bottom line, those utilities did not want to purchase the power plant or the distribution system. In the end, I felt we did not have a choice. We needed to invest further.
Some of our current problems exist because we haven’t grown the last four years as much as we predicted. This lack of growth has been caused by several factors. There is a large amount of fixed expenses involved with all of our utilities. It is my opinion that we have the capacity to produce and market more of our utilities and take the revenue from selling more of the utilities and pay off our fixed expenses sooner and hold the line on our rate structures. In order to sell more utilities, however, we need to encourage growth in this city. Improvements in rates will not happen if we are satisfied with the status quo. Currently, we are asking the existing ratepayers to pay for too much overhead of fixed expenses in our utility. We need to spread these expenses around with a larger base, if you will. Growth can make our rates more affordable. I believe this is the long-term answer. Let’s encourage people to move to Baldwin and become a part of the community and share in the task of paying for all of the city services we desire to have.
In the meantime on a short-term basis, every expense item needs to be analyzed. If there are areas that can be reduced, action needs to be taken. I also would like to see the city offer to ratepayers, an energy audit service. Essentially, the city would have an existing staff member trained and qualified to come into your home or business if so requested, and do an energy audit on your building. Help citizens in the community to identify areas of their homes that need to be improved in order to make them more energy efficient. There are a lot of older homes in this community and many of them need to have energy efficient updates done to electrical systems, heating and air conditioning systems, appliances, insulation and windows, etc. If we are in the utility business, we should be offering some type of service that would give ratepayers some ideas on how to conserve and become more energy efficient.