The Olathe City Council is moving forward with a 2018 budget that moderately increases city spending while still including a slight reduction in the property tax rate.
Council members on Tuesday held a public hearing on the spending plan ahead of the formal adoption on Aug. 15.
For 2018, the budget would provide a maximum spending limit of $366.7 million, up 9 percent from this year. This includes spending from all funds, including those paid for by users, such as utilities and the library.
Spending from the general fund, which covers the majority of the city’s operations, is proposed to grow 2.7 percent to $102.6 million next year.
Budget manager Matt Randall said the budget would include a quarter-mill reduction in the mill levy, dipping from 24.708 mills to 24.458 mills. A mill equals $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed value. That means the property taxes on a $225,500 home, the median home value in Olathe, would dip about $6 a year.
However, the budget also includes a number of utility rate increases meant to help the city replace and expand existing infrastructure faster. Water rates would increase 4 percent, sewer rates would increase 5.2 percent and storm water management fees would increase 2 percent. Residential solid waste fees would increase 1.5 percent.
Randall estimated the utility and solid waste changes would cost the average Olathe household a total of $3.90 more a month, or almost $47 a year.
The new budget would also add 11 employees, including three police detectives, a two-member firefighter/paramedic team, an inspector to handle the growing list of city infrastructure projects and a horticulturalist for Lake Olathe. It also would provide money for a traffic signal timing study and the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, which would work to improve residential property values in struggling areas of the city.
Randall said that even with the new positions, the city’s per capita workforce would remain steady at 4.45 per 1,000 residents.
As part of Olathe’s biennial budget structure, the council also plans to conditionally approve the 2019 spending plan of $384 million. Unlike the 2018 spending plan, the council can make changes to the 2019 budget throughout next year before formally adopting it next summer.
Kevin Wattenbarger, an Olathe fire captain and president of the Olathe Professional Firefighters Association Local 2542, was the only person to speak during the public hearing.
Backed by dozens of firefighters in the audience, Wattenbarger criticized the proposed budget for not including money to build a new permanent fire station in west Olathe, which he said has been an identified need since 2014.
The city plans to open a “temporary” fire station this fall on West Dennis Avenue near Lake Olathe. But Wattenbarger said that location will be designed to answer medical emergencies rather than fires, placing those firefighters in danger if they arrive at a call and choose to tackle the emergency themselves instead of waiting for better-equipped units from fire stations eight or nine minutes away.
He recommended beefing up the Lake Olathe location by closing some part-time squads elsewhere and shifting trucks and personnel.
“We can’t keep sitting idle,” Wattenbarger said. “We have to keep up with these needs. Lives are at risk.”
Mayor Michael Copeland responded that “public safety is our number one priority” and asked City Manager J. Michael Wilkes to provide the council more information on the proposed station before the Aug. 15 meeting.
In other business:
▪ The council approved a development agreement with developer Holmes III LC to perform $26.1 million in renovations to the Olathe Station shopping center on the southeast corner of South Strang Line Road and South Strang Line Court.
The developers plan to update building facades, replace some retail buildings, build a 122-room hotel and add fountains, sidewalks and other landscaping. As part of the agreement, the city is creating a community improvement district covering the project, which will levy a 1 percent sales tax within the district over 20 years to help offset $2.4 million in development costs.
▪ The council on Tuesday approved up to $12.5 million in incentives and a development plan for a $65 million mixed-use development anchored by tournament-style soccer fields at the southwest corner of Kansas 10 and Ridgeview Road. The development agreement is with Ridgeview Equities.
▪ The council voted to delay for two weeks the approval of a rezoning to create the Lone Elm Commerce Center, a 122-acre warehouse and large office development at 167th Street and Lone Elm Road. Developers said the project, once complete, would provide almost 2 million square feet of commercial space. The delay was to give the developers and city staff more time to work on the location of a necessary emergency access road connecting 167th Street with a newly built 163rd Street.
▪ The council also voted unanimously to approve rezoning 6.2 acres at the northwest corner of Harold and Parker streets for Parkview Townhomes, a multifamily development including nine buildings and 51 units.
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