A look forward to the fiscal year 2014 budget for the city of Lansing actually began with a look back Thursday.
City Administrator Mike Smith began reading a list of answers to emailed questions from Councilwoman Andi Pawlowski that questioned figures Smith had presented at a previous work session outlining cost saving measures taken by the city over the past few years.
Council members opted to stop Smith reading his answers to the questions after several minutes ― “this isn't the time or the place for this,” said Councilman Gene Kirby ― but Smith said he was trying to defend what he saw as attacks on his and his staff.
“All I was trying to get across is if these questions were so important, they should have come to me two or three weeks ago,” he said.
Pawlowski said she meant to try to get clarification on some of the points made earlier.
“I was responding to the comments in the briefing,” she said. “And I just wrote what I was thinking. That's where I was coming from and I tried very hard not to make it personal.”
Mayor Billy Blackwell suggested the city make Pawlowski's questions and Smith's answers available on the city's website. He also, responding to a comment by Councilman Don Studnicka, said it might be somewhat pertinent.
“It's cost-saving measures that Mrs. Pawlowski is getting at, and if there's cost-saving measures that can be applied before we go into the budget part of it, maybe it has value,” he said.
That said, city staff also previewed its proposed 2014 fiscal year budget. There are some reductions and cost-savings in that document, including the suspension of transfers to the special parks and recreation and equipment reserve funds and a reduction of $70,760 from the capital improvement program for street improvements.
“This is the only place I have to look anymore, besides people,” Smith said of the CIP reduction.
The valuation for the city increased over the year, meaning that a mill in the property tax levy will produce about $120 more in 2014 than in 2013, according to City Finance Director Beth Sanford.
With that, Smith said the city could remain at its current property tax levy of 39.889 mills while funding three recommended capital and supplemental requests:
n Upgrading the supervisory control and data acquisition software used by the wastewater department to manage operations at the plant and moving the servers for that system to another location, at a cost of $99,138.
n A replacement backhoe and loader for the public works department, at a cost of $100,000
n The appointment of an assistant city administrator, a promotion from among the city's current employees, at a cost of $10,000.
Page 2 of 2 - n The purchase of a replacement diesel heavy duty pickup truck for the parks and recreation department, a cost of $50,000.
However, Blackwell asked council members if they would be willing to allocate an extra 1-mill to the current levy ― for a total of 40.889 mills ― to fund improvements to the site of the new Lansing High School. He said he met with School Superintendent Randy Bagby that day about an option to fund the $1.27 million extension of a 24-inch sewer pipe to that site ― a size that would also allow future development ― and $400,000 worth of improvements to the road system in the area.
“He agreed to do a 50/50 cost share on all the improvements that is needed for the school district as well as what the city would be responsible for over there,” Blackwell said.
Under the proposal, the two parties would enter into a benefit district for the work. The city would issue a bond and the school district would pay an annual special assessment to service the debt.
In a separate issue, one that did not necessarily affect the budget this year, Blackwell asked the council about their potential support for bonding another major project ― required improvements to the 7-Mile Creek watershed. The three-phase project is estimated to cost $2.5 million, and Blackwell said the city has two options ― issue a temporary note and delay payments for two years or look into a Kansas Department of Health and Environment loan.
Council members seemed generally to support the projects for both 7-Mile Creek and the high-school site, though some of them reluctantly. Councilman Gregg Beuhler said he was keeping in mind that the school district's mill levy increase as a result of the high school bond could be less than expected due to low interest rates and increased state aid for construction projects.
“If we can get this and get the infrastructure done and keep it under that 12 mills that the school board initially promised, I think that's a great thing,” he said.
Studnicka said because the school district is moving forward with the high school project, the city has little choice in the matter.
“I think we have to go for it,” he said.