IT’S BUDGET TIME

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Local News

August 14, 2018 - 11:24 AM

Iola voters will be asked to renew the city’s half-cent sales tax that has been used for street improvements and other projects over the past 30 years.
The tax, which amounts to roughly $600,000 annually, was first enacted in 1989 and renewed in 1995, 1999 and 2009, expires at the end of 2019.
Since 2013, the city has agreed to use $300,000 of the sales tax proceeds to support operations at Allen County Regional Hospital. It’s expected county officials will continue to ask for assistance if voters approve the extension.
Iola’s combined sales tax rate of 8.75 percent is the lowest of several neighboring communities, including Chanute, Fort Scott, Yates Center and Independence, City Administrator Sid Fleming told Council members.
Because the sales tax has been in effect for so long, Councilman Gene Myrick noted voter approval would not result in a tax rate increase.
“This is what we’ve been paying all along,” he said.
Fleming pointed to the benefits of having the sales tax in place; primarily because it relieves the burden on Iola’s General Fund, which is supported through property taxes and utility fund transfers.
Having the sales tax mechanism also allows the city to generate revenue from folks from out of town who buy their goods and services in Iola, Fleming said.
The sales tax extension will be decided by voters in the Nov. 6 general election.

COUNCIL members, after another discussion about budget cuts, agreed to schedule a second budget hearing before they approve the city’s 2019 spending plan.
The issue arose after city planners mistakenly left out about $3 million from the city’s published budget, after the money was shifted from capital reserves into individual department budgets.
The second hearing, Mayor Jon Wells noted, was scheduled as a courtesy to the public.
“We could have simply made a budget amendment later on,” Wells said. “But as an issue of transparency, we wanted to let everybody know.”
Prior to agreeing to the second budget hearing, Councilman Ron Ballard asked Fleming about specific budget cuts, and whether enough funding was cut from the budget.
Fleming listed cuts totaling about $120,000. Fleming noted the city pared in half what it put into an employee benefits fund, from $1,000 per full-time employee to $500; pared back funding for equipment replacement and eliminated mosquito spraying starting next year — Councilwoman Nancy Ford and Councilman Mark Peters were the only Council members who wanted to see the practice continue.
Ballard and Ford pressed Fleming on personnel cuts, the most likely scenario for larger savings.
Ballard also pointed to equipment reserves.
Fleming said both topics would be discussed in future meetings.
With those in mind, Council members scheduled the second hearing for their Aug. 27 meeting.
The higher budget authority will have a minimal effect on the expected ad valorem levy Iolans must pay in the form of property taxes.
The anticipated levy of 48.5 mills is less than a 10th of a mill higher than was paid this year.
That means the owner of a $75,000 home will pay about $418 in taxes to support the city in 2019, within a dollar of this year’s levy. The levy does not account for taxes to support Allen County, Allen Community College or USD 257.

 

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