Roeland Park residents chose from a menu of possible budget cuts Tuesday night in an attempt to give the city council guidance on how to reduce the size of an anticipated property tax increase to support the 2014 budget.
It was the second of two budget town hall meetings that the city has held to get residents’ input. The crowd for this week’s session was significantly larger than the first, but it followed the announcement of a draft budget showing an approximately 40 percent increase in the property tax assessment.
Mayor Joel Marquardt told the crowd that the property tax increase “may not be the best answer to some, but it might be the best answer to others.” The choices, the mayor said, are to may budget cuts or add sales tax if the property tax increase is to be reduced.
Again, residents attending were divided into small groups to work through a menu of spending cuts that could soften the impact of the property tax hike. The groups also were asked to give their opinions about a possible sales tax increase. However, a new sales tax must be voter-approved which can’t be done in time to consider the revenue in the 2014 budget.
When the small group sessions reported out, many had come to some similar conclusions about places to cut. Of the proposed increase of more than 10 mills in property tax, the groups suggested cuts that would trim it back anywhere from 3.5 mills to 6.4 mills with a 5 mill reduction frequently proposed. The groups that came to a conclusion about a new sales tax generally favored keeping the total rate under 10 percent. The base rate in Roeland Park is now 8.625 percent of which the city is collecting 1.25 percent (the rest is state and county). The rate is higher in the shopping center areas heard the current Walmart.
In their deliberations, residents worked from a survey of potential cuts that had been outlined for them. Dropping a streets cape design at Roe Avenue and losing a position in both the police force and administration were often mentioned. The results of the recommendations and answers to budget questions that participants submitted will be posted on the city’s website.
The choices for budget cuts added up to more than 16 mills, which would wipe out more than the increase. Most groups were reluctant to cut assistance services such as the utility assistance program to help lower income residents.
The evening had a bit of a rocky start when a couple of residents in the full room challenged the method of breaking into small groups. However, at the end of the evening several participants said they felt they had more input through the breakout sessions. One resident said it kept some dominant voices in the city from hijacking the meeting which gave everyone else a chance to be heard.