Parsons property owners will have to pay a quarter of a mill more in taxes to support the 2020 city budget, which also takes into account an increase in wastewater bills.

After a request from Commissioner Tom Shaw and agreement from the other commissioners, the budget also will support the addition of a second code enforcement officer.

Commissioners approved publication of the budget in Thursday’s edition of the Parsons Sun and set a public hearing for 6 p.m. Aug. 18. The commission likely will approve the budget during that meeting. Following approval, the budget can be lowered but not increased. The budget is due at Labette County on Aug. 25.

Next year’s proposed budget calls for net expenditures of $19,679,605, up from $19,411,212 for this year. Of the $19.6 million, $2,959,181 is projected to be raised through property taxes based on a tax rate of 54.936 mills. This year’s budget is supported by a mill levy of 54.686.

A raise in the tax rate devoted to Parsons Public Library employee benefits accounted for 0.25 of a mill increase. The mill levy for the fund would go from 1.28 mills to 1.533 mills. The mill rate for the general fund would increase slightly to 46.279 from 46.253, but that would be offset by a slight dip in the industrial fund tax rate.

A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.

Each mill levied will bring in more money for the city’s 2020 budget as the city’s assessed valuation rose from $53,370,107 in 2018 to $53,865,734, an increase of $495,627, although the final assessed valuation won’t be set by Labette County until November.

Average homeowners won’t pay much more in property taxes to support city spending as long as their property values didn’t increase. For example, the owner of a $50,000 home would pay $315.88 in taxes to support the 2020 budget, an increase of $1.43. 

Unlike in years past, the commissioners had little input, at least publicly, in the budget. Previously, the commission met in a few special budget work sessions with city staff for several hours, but this year the commission only had one budget session lasting about 35 minutes on Thursday before approving publication of the budget Monday.

City Manager Debbie Lamb told commissioners Thursday not much had changed in the proposed 2020 budget as compared to this year’s budget, so that’s why no other budget sessions were needed. She invited commissioners to talk to her in person, on the phone or on email about concerns.

The unusual approach to the budget this year prompted Commissioner Shaw on Tuesday to email Lamb to schedule a special session to review the proposed budget before the public hearing. As of late Wednesday afternoon, the Sun hadn’t received notice of a special meeting.

Shaw had requested two or three times this summer that the budget include money for a second code enforcement officer working part time so that the city could begin rental unit inspections after it adopts a minimum rental housing standard. The request was ignored until Monday evening when Shaw again requested the position be added and other commissioners agreed.

Lamb said the city staff was willing to add the position and work on rental standards, but she didn’t know how the salary for the new position could be added to the budget without raising the general fund and the tax rate. She said the position could be added in the second half of 2020. The new worker would have to be skilled in checking electrical, heating and air and plumbing systems, she said.

“We find money for other things we want to do,” Shaw said.

Shaw said the commission has discussed for years adopting minimum rental housing standards, and the problem with the poor condition of some of the rental units will only grow exponentially if the city doesn’t do something. The part-time code officer could be a good start.

“If you don’t change, nothing changes,” Shaw said.

Commissioner Jeff Perez said the city can’t keep up with code enforcement now, indicating that adding minimum rental standards might be troublesome, but Commissioner Kevin Cruse and Mayor Bill Hogelin agreed with Shaw’s proposal.

“To me, this is a good place to start. I see that this is a good place to start,” Cruse said.

Shaw said rental properties don’t need to be held to luxurious standards, but the city’s rental codes should start with safety issues and add basic amenities such as doors and windows. The city could draw from other communities that already have minimum rental standards, such as Pittsburg, a college town with a lot of rental property.

Because the minimum standards would address residential safety, Shaw proposed that the position be funded with an existing 0.5% sales tax devoted primarily to public safety. The city could find a way to squeeze the salary into the general fund in the future. Lamb agreed that could be done and added $40,000 in expenditures for the part-time employee, although the city doesn’t have to spend that much.

Lamb said during Thursday’s budget session that she would look into adding the position, but she didn’t include it until after Monday’s meeting.

Also on Thursday, Lamb said the 2020 budget will include a 2.5% cost-of-living wage increase for city employees.

“I just really think they deserve it,” Lamb said.

The city also plans to implement an incentive plan for the police and fire departments in which employees would get paid extra for being in-house instructors or working specialty assignments. The proposal by Police Chief Robert Spinks and Fire Chief Jay Hawks is a way to help retain employees. The additional pay ranges from $50 extra a month for being a relief officer in the fire department to $250 a month for being a field training officer in the police department.

Cruse, a retired fire department battalion chief, said the city had such incentives many years ago.

“It hurt to see those go away,” he said.

The 2020 budget shows increased revenue in the wastewater utility fund, partly driven by a rise in rates.

The budget accounts for an increase of $1.50 a month to the minimum sewer rate from $15 to $16.50. Lamb said the minimum rate is what the average single senior citizen in town is charged based on water usage in October and November the prior year.

The sewage rate for customers using over 1,500 gallons of water also would be raised $1.50, and all usage over 1,500 gallons would be charged 50 cents more per 750 gallons. The city predicts an additional annual income of $197,500 in the wastewater fund if the commission approves the rate hike later this year.

Lamb said the rate increase will help raise cash reserves in the wastewater utility fund closer to the level that the auditors would like.

“In that plant, you can never predict what’s going to happen,” Lamb said.

The city also plans to look at raising all license and permit fees, particularly building and plumbing permit fees, which she said are really low compared to other cities. Fees for the city-owned Oakwood Cemetery also are low compared to other area cemeteries.

“We’re looking at every avenue we can come up with to try to increase the general fund,” Lamb said.

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