Merriam, Roeland Park budget hearings pass without comment; tax rates holding steady

A full house of Roeland Park residents were at the community center to talk about the city budget.
In 2013, Roeland Park residents packed the community center to talk about the city budget.

Not a peep was heard Monday night when the Roeland Park and Merriam governing bodies opened the floor to public comments on their 2016 budgets.

The silence at the formal public hearings may have something to do with the fact that neither city is raising its property tax rate this year. Both have seen an increase in assessed valuation for the 2016 budget year, a welcome trend coming out of the recession years. That will give some breathing room for increased spending at the same mill rate.

In Roeland Park, which still has the potential to lose a chunk of its sales tax revenue at some point in the future if Walmart ever finds a new home, the property tax rate will hold steady at 33.378 mills. In the larger Merriam, the city will hold a 27.606 mill rate again. A difference between the two rates, though, is that the Merriam property tax includes fire service while in Roeland Park, fire services are a separate levy.

Another pronounced difference is that in Merriam, with its strong retail base which includes multiple car dealerships, more than half of the city’s budget is supported by sales tax. Over in Roeland Park, less than 30 percent comes from sales taxes while a third comes from property tax. Just over 20 percent of the Merriam budget comes from property tax.

That high percentage of sales tax can make the revenue more volatile depending on the economy, the Merriam council was told Monday.

Another point of difference is the reserves, which are projected to end at more than $21 million with expenses of about $26 million in Merriam. Over in Roeland Park, reserves for 2016 are scheduled to end at less than $2 million.

Merriam councilor Al Frisby did question the high reserve amount Monday, asking “why don’t we do something for the residents?” City administrator Phil Lammers said that possible repairs or replacement of the pool and community center could eat up a lot the reserve in the near future. More than half of the reserve is in the Capital Improvement Fund designated for larger projects.