Cooling off

Sadie Goracke, 5, dips her hand into the water fountain in Eisenhower Park Tuesday morning. Hands and feet are allowed in the fountain but swimming and wading in the fountain is prohibited.

Predicting the apocalypse of sales tax this year has been challenging for the city of Abilene.

Finance Director Marcus Rothchild unveiled both changes to the 2020 budget and a proposed 2021 budget at the Abilene City Commission meeting Monday.

However, hardest hit most likely will be the Convention and Visitors Bureau which is funded on a percent of the transient guest tax at hotels.

The transient guest tax brought in $192,312 in 2019. Rothchild and city staff have recalculated the 2020 budget to only $145,000, a 25 percent drop.

“You may want to go lower than that,” said Mayor Chris Ostermann, owner of Engle House Bed and Breakfast at 14th Street and Buckeye Avenue in Abilene. “For four months we haven’t had anybody and we are not alone. It’s been devastating. No one has been traveling.”

Dickinson County and the state of Kansas had stay-at-home executive orders for nonessential businesses in mid March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Most of Abilene’s tourist attractions closed doors. Restaurants offered carryout and drive through service only. All non-essential businesses didn’t open until mid June.

“There have been some tough decisions to make with the CVB,” Rothchild said. “The travel industry has slowed.”

Rothchild said there has been some transient tax coming in with construction workers in the area. However, he said last month’s revenue was down 65 percent from a year ago.

The Visitors Center has been closed.

“This is temporary. That is our hope,” said City Manager Jane Foltz. “We made cuts this year in order to help next year.”

Foltz said the city partnered with Old Abilene Town which is selling some of the city’s merchandise. 

Restaurants are now serving and most of the tourist attractions are operating to some degree. The Eisenhower Presidential Museum and Library remains closed.

Rothchild said a 6 percent increase in sales tax in the 2020 budget was expected, bringing in an estimated $1.334 million. That was reduced 11 percent and cut down to $1.2 million. The 2021 budget is at $1.3 million.

“We had to cut that which directly affects our 2021 funds,” he said. 

Bad news, good news

The city’s valuation increased less than 1 percent, 0.97, from 57,431,278 to 57,989,051. However, the budget presented on Monday showed a decrease of 0.51 mills, 51.489 to 50.979. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.

Those are both based on the assumption that the Abilene Public Library budget stays the same as 2020.

The most notable degree is in the debt service which shows a drop of 3.334. He said that because of a job creation grant of $245,404 in 2019.

The Abilene Library Board will meeto todayto discuss the 2021 budget. It will be presented at the July 6 study session.

“The budget has been a long process. We have been working on it for months and we are putting the pieces together,” Rothchild said.

Also in the 2021 budget draft is $350,000 for improvement to City Hall and another $75,000 for aging city facilities.

Almost $1 million is in the budget for street improvements, mainly Sterl Lane.

Offices open

The offices at the city of Abilene are now open to the public.

“We ask that anyone coming in please use precautions when coming into the building,” Foltz said. 

An open house at the Abilene Civic Center for Abilene retirees Kevin Stroda and Tim Davis is scheduled for 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on June 30.

The city will not have a study session on June 29 as it is the fifth Monday of the month when no meetings are scheduled.

The next study session will be July 6. 

City offices will be closed on Friday, July 3, for the Fourth of July holiday which falls on a Saturday.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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