Unknowns hang over Mission budget, including outcome of court decision on ‘driveway tax’ repayment

The cones were out again as sewer work continues on the east end of the Johnson Drive project and lanes were narrowed.
Mission has been faced with a backlog of street projects and stormwater improvements in recent years.

A case before the Kansas Supreme Court presents one of the biggest unknowns that Mission faces in predicting its financial future and crafting a budget for 2017.

That case involves the legality of the Transportation Utility Fee – often called the driveway tax – which has bounced around the courts since it was challenged by a group of Mission residents not long after it was adopted by the city in 2010. Unresolved is not only the question of whether the fee was legal or not – the city no longer collects it – but also whether the estimated $4 million collected from residents and businesses will need to be paid back.

The TUF proceeds of about $800,000 per year were dedicated solely to street repair and maintenance. They were replaced in the 2016 budget with a 7-mill increase in property taxes.

Another variable Mission faces involves the Gateway development that has languished for a decade. The city last year assessed the Gateway land nearly $600,000 per year to repay the $12 million stormwater investment in the property. If it is paid each year on time, the city’s analysis shows that the repayment plus the current stormwater utility charge for residents and businesses will satisfy the stormwater debt and leave room for future repairs. The stormwater fee also was increased last year by $5 per month for a single family residence.

Spreadsheets on the streets and stormwater Community Investment Program (CIP) were presented to the city council Wednesday as part of the 2017 budget process. City Administrator Laura Smith showed the council three scenarios for stormwater. One had the Gateway paying its full assessment, one not paying the assessment at all, and one with a gap of three years before the assessment is collected. If the Gateway assessment is not paid, the fund balance disappears.

In the last decade, the city has invested $30 million in stormwater projects, much of that triggered by the new FEMA flood maps that placed much of the commercial district in the flood plain. If the Gateway pays back its $12 million obligation, then $24 million of the $30 million will have been reimbursed to the city, Smith said. About $7 million was used to purchase property in the floodplain.

Smith said millions of dollars of additional stormwater work lie ahead for the city. One issue is the deteriorating corrugated metal stormwater pipes.

On the street side, the city started a comprehensive street maintenance program in 2010 after decades without one. The spreadsheet showed current revenue, which includes a dedicated quarter-cent sales tax, can satisfy a street maintenance program, but not handle major projects – such as a planned Foxridge reconstruction – in future years.