The Abilene Commission had questions for city staff about the 2023 proposed budget during their July 25 regular meeting. City staff has reviewed the budget with the commission over the past three weeks.
Marsh reminded the commission the mill levy will rise by 1.2 going into. Marsh said staff lowered their original proposal, which rose by 2.9. The levy proposed for 2023 is 51.395.
Dee Marshall, city mayor, then asked Marcus Rothchild, city finance director, to review how the city’s budget has changed in size over the past few years. Rothchild said the mill levy in 2019 was 51.495. The mill levy has been lower since then. The city had a mill levy of 51.489 in 2020, 51.005 in 2021. and 50.187 in 2022.
“For a number of years, commission and staff have been focused on trying to keep the mill levy as flat as possible and trying to be as efficient with those dollars as we can,” Rothchild said.
Marshall echoed Rothchild’s statement that the city has attempted to keep the levy as flat as possible.
“Now we’ve reached a time where inflation is out of control, and I don’t see how we continue to operate that way and maintain the level of services that I personally want. I want fire, water, police, roads and all of that,” Marshall said.
John Kollhoff, city commissioner, then asked questions about city staff pay increases. He started by asking if the city increased pay by 8 percent. Ron Marsh, city manager, said there is a 7 percent increase for cost of living adjustment and a 2 percent merit increase. Kollhoff said he is not comfortable with the increase.
“I think everyone is expecting some world-wide recession here in a week, and I feel like we’re making decisions that may be short-term based off of the last six months that are going to affect us for 20 years into the future,” Kollhoff said.
Marsh said the COLA is based on a 12-month running Midwest average. He said Shayla Mohr, city clerk, created the percent raise based on the 12-month average.
Marshall said the city has been cautious about raising wages in the past. Their cautiousness has led to their wages being lower than other cities and forcing the city to increase their wages at once, rather than gradually, to make them competitive with other employers.
Marsh said the merit increase has been at 2 percent for the past 5-6 years. Whether an employee receives the merit increase is determined by an evaluation. Marsh then confirmed for Kollhoff the raise is essentially a 9 percent increase, as most of city staff passes the evaluation for the merit increase. Marsh said the national average for a COLA increase is between 2-3 percent. Merit increases across the nation can be between 1-10 percent. The averages are almost the same in Kansas, Marsh said.
Brandon Rein, city commissioner, asked if the COLA has ever decreased. Rothchild said cost of living has increased “for years.” The last time cost of living decrease was between 1980-1983.
“If you don’t follow it and keep up with it, similar to a lot of other costs, a lot of times you’ll just be chasing it down the road, just trying to catch up,” Rothchild said. “What we do is just follow the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics — the customer price index calculations that they have recommended — and that’s been our practice to try and stay up with COLA each year.”
Rothchild said the 7 percent COLA is based on calculations from the Bureau of Labor statistics from a couple of months ago. The calculations now show the city should raise the COLA to 9 percent.
Kollhoff said he would be more comfortable with the COLA and merit increase in total being around 5 percent.
Rein then asked what the total dollars levied were from 2019 to 2022. Rothchild said $2,825,432 in 2019, $2,957,100 in 2020, $2,957,665 in 2021 and an estimated $2,957,664 for 2022. The proposed dollars levied for 2023 is $3,151,830. Rothchild said the dollars levied in 2020 increased despite a lower mill levy from 2019 is because the city’s assessed valuation rose. The assess valuation increased by 4 percent for 2023.
Moving on from the staff pay increases, Kollhoff then asked if it was possible for the commission to lower the mill levy cap of the Abilene Public library. Later in the meeting, Kollhoff said he guessed the cap should be around 7 mills. After some discussion, city staff determined it is plausible for the commission to pass an ordinance to lower the library’s mill cap before the commission approves the budget. Aaron Martin, city attorney, said he wanted to make some legal considerations about the timing of the ordinance before making a definitive decision about the legality of the action. Marsh said the budget can be amended after it is approved. Rothchild said the library’s cap for 2023 is 8.22 mills, and the cap in 2022 is 8.088 mills.
Marsh said staff will review the entire budget with the commissioners again during their next meeting August 1. The commissioners will vote to publish the 2023 proposed budget in the August 8 meeting.