By ALICIA FEYERHERM
Tiger Media Network
The Hays City Commission approved the 2024 budget during its meeting Thursday.
For the last 15 years, the city has stayed at 25 mills. A mill is $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.
“As we know, if the mill stays the same, that doesn’t necessarily mean property tax won’t go up because it is a calculation between the assessed valuation and the rate,” Deputy City Manager Collin Bielser said.
Bielser also noted Hays has the 11th lowest city mill levy in the state when compared to first- and second-class cities, and the lowest city mill levy outside of Johnson County.
Looking at total tax bills, Hays ranks 10th lowest compared to first- and second-class cities in the state.
“It is going up a little in valuations, but we don’t control that and I think we do a good job of controlling what we can,” Mayor Shaun Musil said.
The proposed budget for the year would keep the city’s levy at 25 mills.
The budget includes a $903,060 increase in operating expenditures. More than 40 percent of that is going towards a 2% STEP increase and a 3% Cost of Living Adjustment increase in wages for city employees.
“The greatest resources we have are the people, our employees,” commissioner Mason Ruder said. “They’re citizens as well. They pay the same taxes we do.”
Other highlights of the budget include:
- Financial and utility billing software upgrade ($101,900).
- New fire engine pumper truck to replace a truck that has been in operation for more than 20 years ($550,000).
- Main Street bridge repair ($300,000).
- Approximately $1.4 million in temporary notes will be used to start the process of the new police station.
City Manager Toby Dougherty commended the commission and past commissions for their commitment to fiscal responsibility. Dougherty said there have been years where the assessed valuation has stayed flat, but yet there were large increases in employee benefits or other areas funded by the levy.
“We didn’t go to the taxpayers and say, ‘Could we have more money?’ ” Doughtery said. “We dealt with it. We made do with it.”
One example of this is with the construction of the new police station.
“We’ve needed a new police station for 10 years, but only now with a combination of assessed valuations increasing and bond debt dropping off are we able to incur the debt for a new police station,” Dougherty said.
The proposed budget does exceed the revenue neutral rate, which means a public hearing is required. During the hearing, Ken Kennedy voiced his concerns. Even though the city mill levy has stayed consistent through the years, increases in assessed valuation have led to what Kennedy sees as significant tax increases.
“Each of us, every one of us in here, faces that tax increase because of that assessed valuation and the appraisals going up,” Kennedy said. “That is really hard on a community. It’s hard for the school district. It’s hard for the county, and it’s hard for the city’s taxpayers.”
Kennedy said he went through the city’s budget and overall was pleased with how it was laid out. However, he said in the future, when assessed valuations increase as much as they have the last few years, to consider returning some of that revenue back to citizens by reducing the mill levy.
“I realize it’s way deep into the budget year,” Kennedy said. “It’s more difficult to make those decisions now, so let this presentation tonight stand for my presentations next year.”
As the budgets for the following years are drafted, Kennedy hopes the commission will keep his comments in mind.
“Think about all of us and all of your taxpayers, and especially those taxpayers that are on fixed incomes,” Kennedy said.
Ruder said he understands those concerns and while tax increases are never enjoyable, he sees them as an investment in Hays’ future.
“I see my girls who are playing who are 4 and 2, and I’m like, ‘If I don’t invest now into their future, what am I going to leave them by the time they’re my age in this community?’ “ Ruder said.
The hearing was closed and then the budget was approved unanimously.