On Prairie Village city council, no stomach to increase taxes for roads

Jay Senter - June 19, 2012 11:00 am
Public Works Director Bruce McNabb explained a graphic showing how road maintenance costs rise dramatically if streets are allowed to fall into disrepair.

Though most members of the city council acknowledge Prairie Village could face a roads maintenance crisis if it doesn’t find a way to fund recommended repairs in coming years, a sometimes heated debate Monday demonstrated the group doesn’t to have the will at present to raise property taxes — even if it could save taxpayers millions in the long run.

Prompted by City Councilor Charles Clark’s call to gauge interest in raising the city’s property tax rate as much as 6 mills for the 2013 budget, the councilors were nearly evenly split, with six saying they opposed any tax increase while five said they were at least open to the idea. Councilor David Belz was absent.

A chart presented by Public Works shows that, with present funding levels, the amount of Prairie Village streets in significant disrepair will jump markedly over the next five years, costing taxpayers money.

Recommended maintenance and repairs to city streets would cost approximately $7 million a year, according to city staff projections. Over the past several years, the city has allocated significantly less to such projects, creating a situation that Public Works director Bruce McNabb said would end up costing taxpayers much more in the long run. McNabb estimates that it would cost between four and eight times as much to fix or replace roads that are allowed to fall into significant disrepair than it would be keep up with recommended maintenance.

Several one-time revenue boosts — including proceeds from the 2011 bond issue and a carryover balance from un-used funds that had been budgeted the previous year — will allow the city to spend approximately $6.5 million on roads repairs and maintenance in 2013. But when next year’s budget session comes around, the council will likely again be in the familiar position of facing a $5 million gap between recommended spending on roads and what it has available in its capital improvement projects budget.

“You look at Bruce’s figures, and you see it’s going to get worse,” said Councilor Dale Warman, who said he was open to a mill levy increase. “If we don’t do it now, we’re going to have to do it sometime.”

All three of the city councilors elected for the first time in April said they opposed a tax increase to fund roads in 2013 — though none offered tangible alternatives to find funds through cost cutting or other revenue sources. Brooke Morehead told her peers that she had heard from constituents during her campaign that they were opposed to tax increases, a comment that drew a rebuke from Councilor Laura Wassmer.

“You all tell people while you’re campaigning that you’ll cut and won’t raise taxes,” she said. “Honestly, you’re making those comments before you’re educated, before you’ve sat down with the budget and seen what we’re working with. If you think there are things we need to be cutting, voice it.”

City Administrator Quinn Bennion noted that city staff had prepared a budget for 2013 that was smaller than what the council approved in 2012, no small feat in an economic environment where costs for cities continue to rise while revenues stagnate.

At the end of the meeting, the council directed city staff to prepare reports on some of the largest line items in the budget — including the city’s police pension program and staff compensation and benefits — to help the council understand how those budgets are determined and see if there are ways to save significant costs in those areas.

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