Charlene Sims, Journal staff
City officials express irritation at county's funding cut
Updated: Jun 17, 2022
City and county officials met on Tuesday, June 7, to discuss cuts in the infrastructure grant planned by the Linn County Commission. (Screen shot, Linn County Commission)
MOUND CITY – Last month when the Linn County Commission made the surprise vote to cut an infrastructure grant to the county's cities, Commissioner Danny McCullough said he wanted to meet with city officials from across the county. More to the point, he wanted to know what they did with the infrastructure grant money they received from the county, and he wanted their answers to be live-streamed.
On Tuesday, June 7, he got his wish as commissioners and city officials got together in a meeting at the commission’s chamber in Mound City. And the meeting was live-streamed on YouTube.
Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower started out the meeting by saying that she had been asked to schedule the meeting with the cities concerning the infrastructure grant. The commissioners are interested in knowing how the cities used it, she said.
La Cygne City Clerk Jodi Wade said that the city used the infrastructure for all areas of infrastructure improvements for water, sewer and costs for engineering studies that were needed in applying for grants.
Wade said that La Cygne is working with the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) on the project at the intersection of Market Street/Kansas Highway 152 and Industrial Boulevard. That project will add a turning lane on the highway for the industrial park and a turning lane on Industrial Boulevard for the trucks to get onto the highway.
Wade said that La Cygne’s sewer rehabilitation project is getting started and that will be a one-year project. She said the city also was working with staff from the Kansas City branch of the Institute for Building Technology and Safety to update the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning regulations.
The La Cygne Council has hired BG Consultants to make a storm water master plan for the city, she added.
Pleasanton City Manager Teresa Whitaker said that the city used the money for some sidewalk projects through KDOT for safe transportation routes to school and some for road repairs.
Whitaker reported that the city had just finished the second annual Thunder on the Street rally and it was a screaming success. She said the city hopes to keep having the rally in the future, and organizers are looking to expand next year to a three-day event.
She also said that two new houses were recently completed in the city and another two were under construction. She added that a business is planning to build as well.
Whitaker said that Pleasanton is also working on its comprehensive plan, and she is trying to save money by doing some of the work herself.
She said the city is trying to save as much money as it can for a large street project. If the city can’t get any of the infrastructure money, Whitaker proposed working together with the county and having the county resurface the streets.
Whitaker said the next thing Pleasanton needs to be looking at is working on the city’s sewer system.
Whitaker reported that the city pool is in bad repair also but the council doesn’t want to close it. She said the city has replaced so may pieces and parts to it that it is going to be like brand new again.
Mound City Mayor Wayne Doering reported that they had used a lot of the infrastructure money for manhole linings and other sewer improvements. This year the city is going use it for streets.
Doering reported that the splash park is scheduled to open July 9. The rain has postponed the opening until they get the area around the park fenced and have sod put down so dirt does not get into the park water.
He said the city was installing digital water meters.
Doering also said that the city was making upgrades at the city lake, setting up at least 10 primitive camping areas and clearing land to put in some recreational vehicle (RV) pads there also.
Cody Adams, Parker Mayor, said they used the infrastructure grant for street improvements and were using it to repair a dam leak at the city lake.
Adams said they were trying to catch up on improvements. They have not had a maintenance man until just recently. Now, they have put in some culverts, worked on streets and have removed old park equipment.
Prescott used it to update poles and is going to use it to chip and seal the roads, said Mayor Kevin Wood.
Wood said that he had talked about this at a previous meeting with commissioners that the city would like to have a “Welcome to Prescott” sign put up. Wood said that the city was working on a grant to get a young children’s park.
Prescott Councilman Zach Gillis said that he had been talking with the state and county about the highway going through town. We want to get it cleaned up, get all the silt out of the gutters which the state said they would help with that.
He said that city officials had to talk with the county about where Ungeheuer Road meets Kansas Highway 239. It holds water there all the time. In previous years the city and county have debated back and for about whose responsibility it is. The city is just going to fix it, he added.
Blue Mound City Clerk Max Krull reported that the city is getting ready to build a new substation.
Krull said that the city had just finished doing grant studies for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for both their water and sewer systems.
Linn Valley did not have a report.
County commissioners updated the group on the progress at the Justice Center and work on cleaning out road ditches. Other county officials, including the register of deeds, sheriff, planning and zoning director, ambulance service and health department director all gave brief reports about their departments.
Representatives from the cities expressed their frustrations and concerns about not receiving the infrastructure money.
“We really want that money again,” said Whitaker.
Wade asked the commissioners what their considerations and thought processes were when they decided to not give the money to the cities. She asked how would the county use it if it was not given to the cities,.
James said that it was never intended to be used by the cities indefinitely. The county was fortunate enough the last six years to give that money to the cities, but this year the county’s goal is to be revenue neutral, and that should be everyone’s goal.
He said the county was expecting insurance increases of almost 30 percent, and the county would be pressed to do that, so things are going to get tight.
James also said that the very first thing that has to be cut was the infrastructure grant fund because it was not originally intended to be used indefinitely. He said that he wanted to give the money back to the taxpayer by keeping the mill levy as low as possible.
Commission Chair Jim Johnson said that he felt that way as well. He said that they had learned from County Clerk David Lamb that the employee insurance was going up about 25 percent.
Wade said that before now, the state-mandated “revenue neutral” cap on local government taxes was called a “tax lid.” She pointed out that the appraised values are up and the assessed values are up, so to reach their budgets, the cities will not have to request as much mill levy.
Wade said because of that, the county is going to be capable of reaching the budget that it had previously by reducing the tax levy. For all of city officials that work on budgets, our concern is that there is going to be a crash and it is going to drop so we do not want to go overboard.
Johnson said his understanding was that, to stay revenue neutral, the county was going to have to drop five mills.
A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property valuation. Kansas has a statewide assessment percentage of 11.5 percent, so a house with an appraised market value of $100,000 would have a tax assessment value of $11,500. If the tax rate on that residence is one mill, the tax levied would be $11.50.
James said that maybe if some of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money is available for roads, that might help the cities.
Wade said the cities understood the commission’s concerns but it is hard to understand that when city and county officials have all met quarterly three times that this was not brought up. Wade told the commissioners that as they go forward, the cities would like to see more timely communication about what the county was going to do with those funds.
She said they needed some kind of communication or sharing of information in preparation for this cut. The city cannot even pursue grant funding if we do not have the infrastructure money for engineering studies or a grant match, shared Wade.
She said one mill in La Cygne raises about $6,000, so technically for the city to replace that money, it would need to levy an additional six mills.
Mound City Council Member Shana Lamb said that in order for Mound City to make up this money, the city’s mill levy will have to change dramatically as well.
Krull said that Blue Mound could not tax enough to make up for the loss of the infrastructure grant.
James said the problem was that the cities did not have it before, and then you got accustomed to getting it every year.,
Doering said that they way the commission went about this was a problem. If the city and county representatives had this meeting before the blow up a month ago, it would have gone over a lot smoother.
Commissioner Danny McCullough ask James and Johnson if they were opposed to seeing what county can do for the cities?
Pleasanton Council Member Jake Mattingley pointed out that the 1 percent sales tax revenue for the new Justice Center comes from sales that happen in the cities. The county reaps the reward of that with Casey’s and other Pleasanton businesses collecting that tax.
Lamb asked how to meet revenue neutral with rising costs.
Maybe we all aren’t understanding the source of this money, said Wade.
Wade asked the commissioners if they had had a workshop or whether they considered other options when they decided to cut the grants. She also asked if there were other options commissioner considered when they did this. City officials are just trying to understand how the commission came to this decision, she said.
“Do you know how healthy your reserve accounts are?” asked Whitaker.
James said that reserves were used to help build the jail.
Whitaker said she hoped the commission would reconsider cutting the grant. She said that Pleasanton would have to increase taxes to 10.5 mills to replace those funds, and that is not feasible.
James said nobody says it is gone forever, and it is not gone yet.
Adams told the commissioners that everybody at the meeting was irritated about was the surprise. Had this been brought to the cities earlier, they could have budgeted for it. As you said, this was a gift. If everybody could have budgeted without their bonus money, it would have been easier.
City budgets were completed before the commissioners made this decision.
Could the county sort of set this up as a grant situation that cities could apply for, asked Wade.
James said they could probably talk to County Counselor Gary Thompson about that.