The Lee’s Summit City Council has delayed a final decision on boosting public worker salaries until next month but did shoot down two potential ways to pay for it.
The council voted 6-2 on Thursday to table until March 1 an ordinance that would add $5 million to employee wages. They said they wanted more time to evaluate a companion ordinance that would allow them to pay for some or all of the increase by drawing money from the city’s reserve fund.
The reserve fund was created to hold enough money to operate the city for at least two months in the event of an emergency or financial calamity. Current policy doesn’t allow the city to use the money for recurring expenses, such as salaries.
City attorneys completed a measure that would alter that policy on Wednesday, which some council members said gave them too little time to read it.
But the council did vote 5-3 against adopting two ordinances that would have asked voters in August to approve increasing the city’s sales tax by a half-cent and creating a 2.25-percent user tax on goods purchased by vendors located outside Missouri.
City Manager Steve Arbo proposed the two tax measures as a way to help pay for the salary increases along with other purposes amid concerns current revenue streams won’t keep up with city expenses in future years.
Together, the two measures were estimated to be worth $8.5 million a year.
Some council members said they would have preferred sending the two ordinances to the council’s finance and budget committee for additional review and to make sure they were properly explained to voters.
“Right now, I couldn’t defend quite a few of the numbers because they’ve been all over the place,” said Councilwoman Diane Seif, who ultimately voted against the two tax measures.
Councilman Dave Mosby, who also voted against the ordinances, said sales and use taxes aren’t the only source of revenue and that he wanted the consider budget cuts, increased city user fees, and other options to pay for the pay raises.
“There are lots of low-hanging fruit out there,” Mosby said. “There are multiple ways that monies can be held back to be used for salaries, and if I had my way we would start working on them tomorrow.”
Councilman Rob Binney, on the other hand, voted for the ordinances along with councilwomen Diane Forte and Trish Carlyle. He said the city had a responsibility to support city employees and needed all the new revenue it could find.
“Much like the state of Kansas, we’re not going to cut ourselves to prosperity,” Binney said.
Arbo added that while the ordinance delayed until March 1 would provide $5 million for salaries, the council has also said it wants to implement a “step pay” system for its employees who are represented by collective bargaining. That system and the cost of making other salary adjustments could push the full cost of the wage increases to between $6 million and $8 million.
“Everyone’s intent is to be in a better place, but sometimes moving swiftly can actually be more harmful than good, especially when there’s the appearance that we’re making commitments to our employee group that we can’t fulfill,” Arbo said.
In other business, the council gave preliminary approval to new regulations for short-term rentals, such as those offered by companies like Airbnb.
Under the regulations, short-term rentals would be limited to seven days or fewer in single-family homes or duplexes on lots of an acre or more located in the downtown area.
The owner would have to live either in the building or on adjacent property, could rent out no more than two bedrooms at a time, and couldn’t rent to more than four unrelated guests or a single family. The owner also would be required to get a business license and meet several fire safety regulations.
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