Archive for Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Douglas County dispatch commitment contributes to proposed city mill levy increase

Baldwin City Hall

Baldwin City Hall

July 17, 2013

After some grousing Monday about Douglas County passing on costs of its dispatch center to Baldwin City for the first time, the Baldwin City Council took a step toward approving a $17.05 million budget for 2014.

By approving the budget for publication, the council set the date for a public hearing on adoption of the 2014 budget for Aug. 5. At that time, the council can decrease the expenditures in the city’s 25 different funds from those listed in the published budget, but can’t raise spending levels without republishing the budget.

Budget highlights

• Four percent employee merit pay increase

• $20,000 for Douglas County dispatch services

• $20,000 for new snow plow blades

• $40,000 for new business park feasibility/housing study

• $50,000 for gateway entry maker

• $3,000 for Douglas County Senior Services initiatives in Baldwin City

• $15,000 contribution for new senior transportation bus

• $40,000 for grants for downtown murals or façade improvements

• $30,000 for economic development initiatives

• $15,000 for special economic development projects (to be determined)

• $32,000 for new police vehicle

• $10,000 for swimming pool equipment

The proposed budget would set the city’s 2014 mill levy at 35.081 mills, a 1.54-mill increase from the current year. That mill rate would raise the taxes on a $100,000 home by $11.23, to $396.97 from $385.74 last year.

Baldwin City Administrator Chris Lowe shared details on the 2014 budget with the Baldwin City Council at a workshop Monday. The council approved publication of the 2014 budget later during its regular meeting.

Putting stress on the budget process was a 1.6 percent decline in the city’s overall assessed real estate valuation. Although less than the 2.6 decline of a year ago, the valuation decline means a mill will produce $484 less in 2014 than in 2013.

Lowe said the decline in valuation meant the city would have to increase its mill levy by 0.54 mills just to bring in the same amount of property tax revenue as it did this year.

Adding to the increased pressure on the mill levy is the demand from Douglas County that it help pay for the salaries of four additional county dispatchers, Lowe said. That would be a $20,000 expense the county has never asked of Baldwin City in the past, he said.

Although the demand came from the county, it originated from the city of Lawrence, which refused to cooperate with the hiring of the added dispatchers unless Baldwin City and Eudora helped pay their salaries, Lowe said.

Lawrence has an agreement with the county to pay for 66 percent of the cost of dispatch even though more than 80 percent of the county’s dispatch calls originate from Lawrence, Lowe said. Fewer than 1 percent of calls to county dispatch originate in Baldwin City, he said.

The proposed budget does provide for a 4 percent merit pay increase to city employees getting satisfactory reviews. Because employees are reviewed on the anniversary of their hiring, the measure would only increase total salary costs by 1.9 percent in 2014, Lowe said.

City budget by the numbers

• Total budget: 2014, $17.06 million ($13.84 million after on paper $3.21 million zeroing out of reserve funds); 2013 total budgeted expenditures, $13.70 million

• General fund budget: 2014, $2.59 million, 2013, $2.4 million

• Mill levy: 2014, 35.081 mills; 2013, 33.542 mills

• City’s total assessed valuation in 2014 budget, $29.7 million; assessed valuation in 2013 budget, $30.19 million

• Value of 1 mill of taxation in city revenue: 2014, $30,187; 2013, $29,704

• City share of taxes per $100,000 of assessed valuation on a single-family home: 2014, $396.97; 2013, $385.74

The increase is the city’s attempt to ensure employees stay ahead of the 2.5 percent Midwest cost of living increase, Lowe said. Douglas County and the city of Lawrence proposed 4 percent salary increases for their employees in their 2014 budgets, he said.

The big capital improvement project included in the 2014 budget is the city’s commitment to provide $139,800 for the realignment of the High Street/U.S. Highway 56 intersection. The city is a partner with the state and Douglas County in the project.

No fee increases were recommended for 2014 for the city’s water, sewer and refuse utilities. However, the budget does earmark funds for water and sewer rate studies as a prelude to possible future increases. For instance, while the water department is now operating under terms of a new wholesale water agreement with the city of Lawrence, which decreased the city’s wholesale purchase price by 25 percent, Lawrence projects large rate increases to pay for a five-year capital improvement program, according to a written report presented to the council. Baldwin City also should expect to see an increase in the cost of raw water it takes from Clinton reservoir when its current contract with the Kansas Water Office expires in 2017, the report said.

The report noted the sewer fund was the “least healthy” city utility and not producing enough revenue to cover basic operating costs. Lowe’s report recommends increased staffing for the department for improved maintenance as a way to cut costs.

The $17.06 million budget total includes the zeroing out of $3.21 million in reserve funds. With that paperwork expenditure removed, actual budgeted city expenditures for 2014 would total $13.85 million, compared to the city’s $13.70 million in total 2013 expenditures.


1776attorney 4 years, 10 months ago

In the late 1970’s, the Baldwin City Council spent $50,000 of taxpayer monies to establish a small industrial park at Highway 56 and High Street. The city installed electricity, water and sewage and promoted the moniker “if you build it, they will come”. Well, they never came. The ROI on the $50,000 was nil. Taxpayers lost out.

Once again a new city council (with behind-the-scenes pressure and influence from developers and businesspeople) is spending $40,000 of the current proposed budget (taxpayer monies) to fund a study for a potential new business park.

1) Any consulting firm taking $40,000 from the city for a study is never going to report back that a city financed business park is a bad idea, because then the $40,000 would appear to have been wasted. The report will always weasel around some kind of semantic gymnastics to present a positive spin on the proposed business park even if it is a poorly conceived idea.

2) Baldwin City is never, ever going to be able to compete with 40 + million square feet of new office and warehouse commercial real estate in Edgerton that has the latest, greatest technology and office design, and is right in the middle of the “action” and I-35 access of the new InterModel.

Baldwin City is better served marketing itself for what, in reality, it is -- a family-oriented, nice, friendly, easy accessible bedroom community with a well-known university and reputation. You play to your strengths. The city should work on establishing unique, well-managed, innovative city services to attract new families, not vacant business parks.

(Look at the cost and history of the Lawrence EastHills Business Park. Millions of taxpayer dollars and the park is mostly empty and abandon.)

Fifty thousand taxpayer dollars for a spanking new sign announcing that highway travelers have arrived at Baldwin City. Are you serious?

This $90,000 could provide for several square blocks of desperately required new ADA sidewalks, street curbing, rainwater sewers and street lighting around the city center areas of downtown. While just a start on these projects, at least it is not a waste of $90,000.

Sidewalks, street improvements and lighting are what the majority of taxpayers and voters want.


Nathaniel Johnson 4 years, 10 months ago

I would second what 1776attorney is stating and add some additional ideas. We are a bedroom community with a small number of day-trip tourist type businesses. We could easily increase our tourism by playing to our strengths. I admit that I have a personal interest in seeing us as a stop between Lawrence and Ottawa for bicyclists. For those who are unaware, 2.4 million in Federal and State grant money is being used to upgrade the Flint Hills Nature Trail which runs over 100 miles, East to West through Ottawa and is expected to eventually connect with the KATY trail in MO. There is a spur off the Katy trail in MO to Columbia that brings a huge number of visitors that could be used as an inspiration. Although it is unlikely we could have an actual trail, Highway 1055 could be widened to include reasonable shoulders and a bike share lane to at least make it a safer road to ride. 1055 runs from Lawrence to South of Baldwin and connects with another paved road all the way to the trail heads in Ottawa. While this is not solely a Baldwin City project, our city leaders should be looking to cooperate with other local governments to realize this kind of opportunity.

Nathaniel Johnson


1776attorney 4 years, 10 months ago

One important point that voters and taxpayers should note-

The following city government personnel, both hired and elected, have their homes in the north of Highway 56 neighborhoods that are receiving taxpayer funded improvements and development (like a new 1055 roadway, sidewalks, Eisenhower Street, and a proposed walking/nature trail, etc.).

Chris Lowe, City Manager, 1205 Signal Lake Court

Christi Darnell, City Council, 1214 Long Creek Court

Shane Starkey, City Council, 201 Signal Oak Court


baldwinfan 4 years, 10 months ago

I'm with 1776. I keep hearing about people who want to grow Baldwin City. Why? For the last 10 years I've heard about growth and in the same 10 years, my property tax has increased 50%. Let's stop spending money in the name of development. If they really insist on spending money, please spend it on quality of life projects for current residents so I can at least see some return on my increased taxes.


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