The mill levy in Parsons likely will increase for the first time in several years because of a loss in revenue related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
City Manager Debbie Lamb told commissioners Monday evening that in preparing the 2021 budget, she has been able to project only $63,000 in cash carryover at the end of the year. The city usually likes to budget for cash carryover of $200,000 to $300,000.
“Anything below $100,000 is really skin of your teeth,” Commissioner Tom Shaw said.
Lamb said with police officers conducting fewer traffic stops because of the pandemic, the municipal court fund has taken a hit of about $100,000 for the year. Lamb expects sales and property tax revenue to be much lower this year also. Compounding the problem is that the city’s workers’ compensation insurance will increase by 35% in 2021 for an additional $50,000. Lamb also is preparing the budget as if health insurance will increase by 10%, however premiums won’t be set until after the budget is approved in August.
The city commission has set a policy of keeping the property tax mill levy level, and the city hasn’t raised taxes in several years as a result, but Lamb asked the commissioners if an increase could be considered for the 2021 budget. Only Mayor Jeff Perez said in the meeting that he would support a tax increase if needed.
“I mean, the bills won’t go away,” he said.
The other commissioners didn’t comment. Commissioners Leland Crooks and Kevin Cruse were not present.
“I just need you to know there’s a possibility that we have no choice,” Lamb said.
The rough draft of the budget includes no pay raises, and department heads have been asked to cut expenses wherever possible. Staff cuts have been considered, but Lamb said no one wants to do that.
The city has a health insurance reserve fund comprised of “rainy day” funds left over from when the city was self-insured, and Lamb said that could help.
One mill produces about $57,000. Shaw said the city could have to raise the mill levy by two to three mills if more cuts can’t be found.
Also on Monday, the commission passed a resolution that allows the city to receive money from Labette County for expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Labette County received $3.9 million in funding last week for its share in the $400 million to be distributed statewide from the federal government. Gov. Laura Kelly’s Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas task force decided how the money would be split, so the funds are commonly called SPARK funds.
Jim Zaleski, economic development director, and Laura Moore, community development director, are assisting the county in creation of a plan to distribute the money to school districts, cities, Labette Community College and Labette Health. The county plans to have an initial plan ready on Monday. The deadline to submit the plan to the state is Aug. 15.
Zaleski said a portion of the city’s money could be spent on the $10,000 in expenses related to an ordinance that requires people to wear masks in buildings and outdoor events where social distancing is not possible. The city bought thousands of disposable masks to give to businesses so they can hand them out to customers and employees. As of Monday evening, 13,375 had been distributed. The city also has created door signs for businesses to display to let the public know masks are required. When a company is given masks, it also receives signs. Additionally, the city has purchased fliers and radio ads and plans to buy newspaper ads. Zaleski said the money also could be used to pay for future mask orders and other personal protection equipment.
Depending on how much money is left over, Zaleski said, the city could be “a little more creative” in how it is spent. He and Moore have thought of some programs, and he encouraged the commissioners to think of other ideas. The SPARK task force has suggested some programs that could be funded with the money, and some could be implemented here, Zaleski said.
Mayor Jeff Perez suggested the city spend some on an education program to advise businesses how to address issues regarding the mask requirement, such as confrontations with customers who refuse to comply.
Shaw questioned the decision for the federal government to dole out so much money to all the states so quickly.
“It makes me think that possibly people in Washington haven’t thought this through before they started putting the printing presses in high gear,” Shaw said.
Perez said the city needs to make sure the money is spent appropriately. Otherwise, the city could have to repay the state. Lamb said a board in Topeka will review plans and let entities know if they include incorrect uses of the money, but with all 105 counties receiving money, the board may be too busy, so the city should be really careful.
In other business the commissioners:
— Heard Fire Chief Kenny Ward give a commendation to the C Shift of the Parsons Fire Department. The firefighters responded to a 911 call on March 4 about a person not breathing and possibly having been electrocuted. Another person had started CPR. When firefighters arrived the victim was in full cardiac arrest, but they were able to continue life-saving efforts. The victim survived and fully recovered.
— Heard from Moore that the city and county have received 27 applications from businesses for a special round of funding from the Community Development Block Grant program for pandemic relief. As of Monday evening, 44 businesses that initially indicated they were interested in grants have not replied, so Moore planned to continue emailing them. Sixteen businesses originally interested either do not qualify or have decided not to apply.
— Heard from City Attorney Ross Albertini that the commission could amend the ordinance requiring masks to be worn in public to include an age restriction. Perez said some people have asked if younger children are required to wear masks. Albertini said the exclusion of an age restriction was an oversight. He suggested the commission could amend the ordinance to state that children 5 and younger do not have to wear masks.
Albertini also advised that the city would not enforce the ordinance against auctioneers, pastors and others who must speak in public if their ability to communicate is inhibited by a mask. They would be required to wear a mask around other people but could remove them when they speak if they are at least 6 feet away from everyone.
— Approved payment of $21,115 to HDR Engineering Inc. for engineering services on the design of a peak flow pump station at the wastewater treatment plant and $1,394 to HDR for engineering on an influent pump station and sludge processing evaluation at the plant.
— Approved payment of $3,090 to BG Consultants Inc. for engineering on improvements to two stormwater pump stations on the Labette Creek levee.
— Approved payment of $1,980.68 to Olsson Associates for a Lake Parsons dam inspection.
— Set 1:30 p.m. July 29 as the time to receive bids for five 2-cubic-yard trash containers, five 4-cubic-yard containers and 15 6-cubic-yard containers.
— Approved payment of $3,661 to TranSystems Corp. for engineering services on a resurfacing project for South U.S. 59 from South 21st Street to Commercial Drive.
— Approved a bid of $888,932.50 to LaForge & Budd Construction Co. to construct a 600-foot taxiway connector at Parsons Tri-City Airport. The project will be funded with a Federal Aviation Administration grant that requires a 10% match from the city. Darrell Moyer, director of public works and engineering, announced on Monday that the city’s share will be funded with money from the federal coronavirus relief act, meaning the city will be responsible only for engineering costs.
— Approved a firefighting contract with Branon and Emily Morris, 1712 23000 Road.
— Approved an ordinance that authorizes an amendment to a bond agreement between Parsons Hospitality Holdings LLC and Commercial Bank to allow Parsons Hospitality Holdings to pay interest only on the bonds until Jan. 1. The city issued industrial revenue bonds the company for construction of a Holiday Inn Express and the adjacent Parsons Conference Center so that the company could receive 10 years of property tax abatements. The city is not liable for repayment of the bonds. The bond buyers agreed to allow interest-only payments this year because the hotel and conference center have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.