The Augusta City Council approved its 2013 budget Monday night.
Augustagazette - Augusta, KS
Updated Aug. 16, 2012 @ 10:34 am
Updated Aug. 16, 2012 @ 10:34 am
» Social News
The Augusta City Council approved its 2013 budget Monday night. The budget includes a 1.227 mill tax increase to cover bond and interest payments but no increase to any tax supported budgets.
The 6-1 vote with Mike Huddleston opposed and Matt Childers absent due to a recent accident was the culmination of a handful of meetings and hours of discussion.
Even after the final vote, the debate on the definition of "fluff' versus "quality of life" projects and the question of how to build toward the future with no tax increases continued.
Rick Heise was the only person to address the governing body during the public hearing Monday night. Heise relayed his opinions on topics such as the council considering adding an officer to the Department of Public Safety, the aerial fire truck, merit increases for city workers and the need for the city to "hire a retired business professional to go out and promote Augusta."
After positing that a new officer would cost the city about $60,000 in direct and indirect costs, Heise told the council that he felt there were better uses for that money.
"Is this necessary or if the safety department wants it, do we rubber stamp it?" he asked. "There are better ways to spend money than a police officer."
Director of Public Safety Tyler Brewer addressed Heise's concerns later during the hearing.
"We have two less officers than we had when I came here in 2003," Brewer said. "The population has grown and our number of calls has increased."
Heise also mentioned that the city appeared to be buying luxury items for the safety department – which he said does great things and keeps the city safe – like an aerial fire truck and Chevy Tahoes rather than four door sedans for the department.
"I would just like to say that the Tahoes were the low bid and the cost to drive and maintain them is very reasonable," Brewer said. "And the fire truck can be used in many situations. We now have the capability to save a life. If it is my daughter, I would say that truck was worth the $800,000 we paid for it."
But Heise's final comments were still the topic of discussion when the meeting ended Monday. Heise had asked the council to "be judicious with tax dollars."
Councilor Ron Reavis addressed that concern before the final vote to approve the budget without a new police officer but maintaining the funding capacity to give merit raises to city employees was approved.
"Mr. Heise talked about being stewards of the public money," Reavis said. "There is no fluff in this budget. Several people on this council talk about how if previous councils had acted, we would be ahead of where we are today. But we are approving another status quo, no-increase budget."
Mayor Kristey Williams took issue with the idea that the city hadn't moved forward in the past few years.
"We have made investments in the years that I have been mayor. I don't think we are status quo," Mayor Williams said. "There is just stress in our community and across the nation due to the economy."
"There are so many things that will never get done because we won't raise taxes," Reavis said. "There is no way you can look at our parks with no equipment or ball fields with those bleachers and say we are serious about making improvements here."
"I think we have to look at how we can expand the tax base rather than just raising taxes on the people who are here," Williams said. "Why didn't anyone propose a plan to add equipment to the parks or do that kind of work before the budget was improved?"
Councilor Sue Jones said she agreed with Reavis.
"Augusta appears to be a sad, tired little town," she said. "You like to tout the dam and spillway and other projects but those are not quality of life issues."
Jones pointed out that El Dorado, Mulvane, Haysville and Derby all have beautiful parks.
"We have a dry, sad park with weeds in the flower bed and no equipment for children to play on," Jones said. "Citizens want quality of life projects and we aren't giving it to them."
The members of the governing body all said they were trying to represent their constituents' wishes. But they appear to be talking to very different constituents.
"I only heard from one constituent and they were adamantly opposed to any tax increase," said Councilor Mike Rawlings.
Matt Malone said residents he had talked to were in favor of extra taxes for the infrastructure needs the city has but not for new police officers or other projects.
Jones said she didn't think the city should rely on local entities like Downtown Augusta Inc. and the Chamber of Commerce to plan events for the city. She said the only event the city helps with is the fireworks show and even then the city only donates $500 of the money they receive from local fireworks sales permits.
She asked why the city didn't organize events like a picnic in the park or other events as other cities do.
"I don't think it is the government's job to have picnics," Williams said.
"Oh yes it is," Jones said emphatically.
Williams reminded Jones that the city of Augusta has no recreation commission like those in other cities that host similar events.
"Well, maybe we should have one," Jones replied.
The idea of a recreation commission is not new. Several meetings have been held to discuss the possibility, but the downturn in the economy has kept any serious action from being proposed due to the cost associated with adding a new department to the city government.
Reavis made a motion to approve the 2013 budget after removing the new police officer and benefits involved with the position. Rawlings seconded the motion.
Councilor Mike Wallace attempted to amend Reavis' motion and add $6,000 to the safety department's vehicle maintenance budget but that motion died for lack of a second.
The budget passed 6-1 with Huddleston voting no and Matt Childers absent.