The Olathe City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to hold a mail-in election asking voters to approve a sales tax to pay for street maintenance.
By LINDA CRUSE
Special to The Star
Saying that letting voters decide was the right thing to do, the council agreed to ask them to approve a 10-year, three-eighths cent sales tax. Ballots will be mailed to voters on Oct. 23 and will be due by Nov. 12. If approved, the sales tax would go into effect in April 2014 and end March 2024.
City Manager Michael Wilkes said finding a way to pay for street maintenance was vital because unless immediate action is taken, citizens could end up paying much more later to repair city streets.
“The bottom line is if we don’t begin funding our street maintenance at a significantly greater level, in 10 years or less our taxpayers will be paying at least 10 to 15 times what is needed today for streets,” he said. “It is our responsibility to make sure we don’t create that major burden for ourselves and future tax payers if we can avoid it.”
Olathe has used general fund cash in recent years to pay for street maintenance. However, using the cash has required making cuts to other programs and departments, said Wilkes.
Rather than increase the mill levy, city staff recommended a sales tax. They said it would apply not just to property owners, but also to everyone using Olathe streets —even non-residents.
Council members agreed with city staff that a sales tax would be a more equitable way to pay for street improvements than raising the city’s mill levy or using the city’s general fund.
Councilman Wes McCoy said the sales tax would be a small investment back into the community to help maintain property values. He said citizens should be part of the process.
Councilman Ron Ryckman said the tax might eventually result in a lower mill levy. “Lowering the mill levy now is not realistic,” he said. “But if voters can help us pay for city streets (with a sales tax) then we can look for ways to cut the mill levy. I support taking it to the voters and letting them decide.”
Wilkes said the city maintains more than 1,200 lane miles, of which about 250 require work. Local mill and overlay costs $118,000 per lane mile and major repair mill and overlay costs $185,000. City staff estimates an additional $9.26 million is needed each year to adequately fund street maintenance over the next decade. Right now, Olathe can afford to address only 43 percent of the need, he said, but a three-eighth cent sales tax could fund all of it.
2014 budget: Also Tuesday, the city held a public hearing on the proposed 2014 city budget, which the council is scheduled to adopt on Aug. 20. No one spoke during the hearing.
The proposed $79.4 million operating budget maintains the current mill levy, so there will be no increase in city taxes next year. Features of the budget include the addition of 7.5 full-time equivalent positions, including a police department detective, a municipal court bailiff, two firefighters and a half-time position in the city’s prosecutor’s office.
The city’s Capital Improvement Plan is slated to cost $180.9 million, up 24.6 percent from this year. Projects include Raven Ridge Park, stabilization of Cedar Creek, wastewater treatment expansion and arterial mill and overlay.
The proposed budget also includes fee supported funds, including water and sewer, solid waste, storm water, and recreation. These department’s budgets are based on usage rather than tax revenue. The proposed budget includes a 4.8 percent water rate increase and an 8.2 percent sewer rate increase.
Citizens honored: The council honored Ravenwood Elementary School teacher Juliann Bliese, who was named a Kansas Master Teacher; and Erica Chang and Elizabeth Martin, Olathe East High School students who received perfect ACT scores. High school student athletes also were honored for their achievements.