Commissioners approve budget – again

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Leavenworth city commissioners have approved the city's 2022 operating budget – again.

Commissioners had a special meeting Monday afternoon to conduct public hearings for exceeding what is referred to as the revenue neutral rate for property taxes and approving the budget.

Commissioners previously held a public hearing on the issue of exceeding the revenue neutral rate Aug. 24. And they had a public hearing to approve the $54.9 million budget Sept. 7.

City Manager Paul Kramer said commissioners were having the hearings again because there may have been some question as to whether there was sufficient notice of the revenue neutral rate hearing on the city's website. A new law requires the city to publish notification of the hearing on the website at least 10 days before the hearing.

Kramer said the city had provided sufficient notice for the budget hearing. But the law requires the budget hearing to take place after the revenue neutral hearing, so commissioners held both hearings again.

By exceeding the revenue neutral rate, the city will collect more money in property taxes in 2022 than in 2021.

Local taxing entities use mill levies to set property taxes. The 2022 budget calls for a 0.66-mill decrease to the city's overall mill levy. But despite this mill levy decrease, the city will still collect more money in property taxes next year because of an increase in the overall valuation of property in Leavenworth.

The city's overall mill levy for the 2022 budget is 31.142 mills. The revenue neutral rate is 28.18 mills.

Kramer said Monday that the city will be receiving about $350,000 more in property taxes in 2022. But he said about half of that will be turned over to businesses as a result of economic incentives that were promised through development agreements.

He said the remaining half of the increased property tax revenue will be used to cover increased expenses for public safety. He said the city also is facing higher costs for commodities.

"Gas is a dollar higher than it was last year," he said.

Kramer said sales taxes generate more revenue for the city than property taxes. But he said property taxes are still crucial for the city government.

Commissioner Mark Preisinger argued the only way for the city to achieve the revenue neutral rate is to defund the Leavenworth Police Department.

"I just don't think that is what the people of Leavenworth want," he said.

No one from the audience provided public comment during the revenue neutral hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, commissioners voted on a resolution to approve a tax rate that exceeds the revenue neutral rate.

The vote was unanimous.

An audience member did address commissioners during Monday's public hearing on the budget.

Maren Hart, who is a candidate for the Leavenworth City Commission, argued all five commissioners voted for a tax increase when they voted for the resolution for exceeding the revenue neutral rate.

She asked commissioners if they had looked at what they could do to reduce the budget.

Hart accused the city of a lack of transparency and consistency regarding the 2022 budget.

"Thank you for campaigning again," Mayor Nancy Bauder said. "We appreciate that."

Bauder was referencing the fact that Hart also spoke during the Aug. 24 revenue neutral rate hearing.

Commissioner Mike Griswold argued Hart probably is the only candidate in the history of Leavenworth to come to a governance meeting to campaign.

Griswold is running for reelection this year. Preisinger and Commissioner Jermaine Wilson also are seeking reelection. In addition to Hart, the other candidates in the race are Griff Martin and Edd Hingula.

Commissioners unanimously approved the 2022 budget. They also voted unanimously to approve a resolution to establish a budget for Planters II, a public housing apartment building that is operated by the city.

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