Mission residents don’t challenge plan for revenue increases at 2016 budget forum

Street maintenance costs are one of the big challenges facing Mission in the wake of a court ruling.
Street maintenance costs are one of the big challenges facing Mission in the wake of a court ruling.

Mission’s 2016 budget is faced with significant shortfalls in paying for stormwater debt and street maintenance, but none of the approximately 20 people who showed up for the city’s public budget forum opposed a plan that would raise both stormwater fees and property taxes to cover the difference.

The increases were the direction set by the council at a work session last week. The presentation Wednesday night did not go into specifics on the increases, but showed that residents are expected to pay more next year to cover a shortfall of more than $500,000 in the stormwater debt service and close to an $800,000 loss in street maintenance funds. That loss comes as a result of the Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the city’s Transportation Utility Fee (TUF) is illegal.

“Whatever you’ve got to do to repair the streets, do it,” Mission resident Judy Fox told the council. “My street is crumbling. We really need some street repair in this city.”

Besides typical street maintenance, the city has determined that millions of dollars will be needed over the next several years to a complete rebuild of many streets that can no longer be patched and repaired. City Administrator Laura Smith said the city did not have comprehensive street or stormwater maintenance plans for 50 years. The biggest impact on stormwater costs, she said, came from the FEMA flood plain changes a few years ago that put much of the commercial district in the flood plain.

“You would like to pay as you go,” Mayor Steve Schowengerdt said, “but with something that big you just can’t.”

Bill Nichols asked the council to consider a hiring freeze in the city or to try to cut the budget even more. Nichols is one of the plaintiffs in the suit that challenged the legality of the TUF.

Smith called the 2016 budget a “maintenance budget” like 2015 with no changes in programs or services. Only about half of the department equipment requests were approved for 2016, she said.

Infrastructure is the challenge for Mission with the council giving direction to consider a seven mill increase in property tax rates and a $2 increase in the monthly stormwater charge. Mission currently has the lowest property tax rate in northeast Johnson County by a considerable margin. Rates in many cities can run double or triple the Mission rate of 11.3 mills.

Mission gets 39 percent of its general fund revenue from sales tax and only 15 percent comes from property taxes. The city has created several dedicated sources of infrastructure revenue over recent years, including the TUF, the stormwater fee and dedicated sales taxes for parks and street maintenance.

The stalled Gateway development did not go unscathed. One resident who referred to developer Tom Valenti as “Mr. New Jersey” in his questions asked about getting payments owed the city. Smith said that while the city has certified a $600,000 per year assessment against the Gateway, that is no guarantee that it will be paid – at least until it could go up for a tax sale in three years.