By Holly Cook
Upcoming budget talks in Roeland Park will include a discussion of potentially lowering the city’s mill levy rate, members of the city council agreed Monday.
The city’s 2016 mill levy of 33.463 is comparable to Bonner Springs and Edgerton rates, but higher than every other city in Johnson County except for Spring Hill, which has a rate of 38.860. Roeland Park’s rate is notably higher than mill levies for Mission (18), Westwood (21.3), Fairway (19.86) and Prairie Village (19.47).
While finalizing the 2014 budget councilors voted to increase the city’s mill levy by 26 percent to shore up funds in anticipation of Walmart leaving the city and building a new property within the Mission Gateway development. Following a lack of support from the public and Mission City Council, Walmart pulled out of the project in late 2016 and committed to spend $500,000 updating its Roeland Park store.
Councilmember Sheri McNeil said she would like to see how lowering the mill levy by 2 this year would impact the city’s budget. McNeil, who has served on the council since 2013, said she expected the 2014 increase would be temporary.
Councilmember Tim Janssen also said he would like the council to consider lowering the mill now that the reserve funds were filled.
“I feel if we’ve raised the mill to meet an obligation of the Walmart leaving and we have done that…it’s time to look at lowering the mill,” Janssen said.
Mayor Joel Marquardt cautioned councilors that Walmart leaving was still a “very real possibility.” Marquardt said the city had talked with Walmart very recently and that the store had indicated they were hoping to relocate to bigger site.
Marquardt suggested keeping the mill levy at its current level and using the reserve funds for pay-as-you go projects. He said if the council did decide to decrease the mill levy he hoped the decrease would be limited to one or two mills.
“I’m not sure how you get to real short bonds or pay-as-you go if we pull down the mill,” he said.
Councilmember Teresa Kelly noted that recession budget cuts led to the city’s infrastructure being overlooked and questioned how a potential mill levy decrease would impact ongoing efforts to bring infrastructure “up to par.”
“At what level can we afford to do that and maintain the trajectory of catching up our city’s infrastructure,” Kelly said.
Councilmember Becky Fast pointed out that several of the Johnson County mill levies include fees for fire services and that Roeland Park’s does not.
“Roeland Park is 33 and then we pay another 11.7 for fire,” she said.
City administrator Keith Moody noted that some Johnson County cities may have lower mill levy rates than Roeland Park, but have a higher sales tax. Moody also pointed out that Johnson County cities generally had lower mill levies than other Kansas cities.
“There are communities out there who have mill levies that are over 50,” he said.