Trying to avoid delaying upcoming construction projects or cutting back on basic services, the Mission Hills City Council will ask voters in November to increase the citywide sales tax by a quarter cent.
Council members voted unanimously July 10 to begin the process of placing the proposed sale tax increase on the Nov. 7 ballot. City officials say the quarter-cent hike would generate an estimated $120,000 in its first year and $210,000 the year after that.
Council members, who still must approve ballot language for the tax increase, added that it would be temporary and would go away after five years unless voters agreed to renew it.
“We have a number of pressing capital projects, and one of the hallmarks of this city is that we generally don’t get far behind on that,” said Councilman David Dickey. “I think out residents have proven very thoughtful when we’re able to articulate specific need.”
The extra revenue is needed as the city seeks to fill an estimated $148,000 hole in the 2018 budget and avoid expected shortfalls in coming years.
The proposed $8.16 million budget for 2018 represents a 12 percent increase from this year but would keep the current mill levy of 21.95 mills flat for the 13th year in a row.
Among the biggest drivers increasing the budget include continued planned growth in meeting the city’s backlog of capital improvements, a $15,000 boost to consulting services for the city’s planning commission and architectural review, a 5.6 percent increase in the city’s law enforcement contract with the Prairie Village Police Department, the continued removal and replacement of city trees infected by the emerald ash borer, $75,000 for engineering work along Brush Creek and $76,500 in security upgrades for City Hall.
The council plans to hold a public hearing on the 2018 budget on Aug. 14.
Mission Hills already has a 1 percent sales tax, which was approved in 2004. Combined with sales taxes levied by the state and Johnson County, the city’s shoppers currently pay an extra 8.975 percent on purchases.
City Administrator Courtney Christensen said the council’s dedication to holding the line on property taxes and attempts to get the city’s maintenance and capital outlay spending back to where it was before the 2008 recession has forced difficult operational decisions in a city where the average home is valued at $1.2 million.
“We’ve cut and cut and cut and cut to stay with a flat mill levy to the point where there’s no flexibility anymore,” Christensen said. “It’s changing service levels. There’s no more little pots of money to handle an emergency from. There’s no more little pots of money to find $148,000.”
In fact, if the council had not agreed to call for the sales tax vote, Christensen had recommended saving money by delaying reconstruction of badly dilapidated Seneca Road until 2019, an idea that was roundly rejected.
“There is no excuse in my book for deferring this,” said Councilwoman Barbara Nelson.
If voters reject the sales tax increase, the council will have to consider budget cuts anyway.
Council members said they didn’t take raising sales taxes lightly. But they said it was preferable to increasing property taxes or reinstating stormwater utility fees as it affects a wider group of people.
“You’re able to touch the people that are coming into the city for services that might not solely be residents of our city,” said Councilman Braden Perry.
In other business, city staff said they will begin performing early engineering work on Sunken Garden at Mission Drive and Overhill Road after receiving interest from a series of homeowners associations to contribute to the cost of renovating the historic park.
The park, which was donated to the city in 1984, and its fountain are in disrepair, and the city estimates restoring the property would cost around $340,000.
Members of the city’s Park Board and city staff met on Monday with the presidents of three nearby homeowners associations and the president of the Mission Hills Homes Company Foundation about the project. Councilman Bill Bruning said the groups were “solidly in favor” and tentatively said they could contribute $50,000, and a private donor agreed to donate an additional $25,000. Including $190,000 already earmarked by the city and the Park Board, the project would need to find an additional $75,000.
Bruning said the homeowners groups said they will look for additional private donors.
In the meantime, city staff said they will begin doing engineering on the site ahead of asking the city council to approve the construction work early next year.
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