As expected, the pandemic has forced several cuts in the city of Independence for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
With sales tax revenues projected to be down by 21 percent from the end of this year through FY 2020-21, the proposed budget for 2020-21 checks in at $5 million less than last year’s approved budget – just below $311.9 million overall.
The general fund bears the brunt of those cuts, from about $77.7 million to $72.8, with a combination with fewer capital projects, eliminating or freezing vacant positions, cutting some positions, freezing wages and cutting intracity bus routes – the last one barring some emergency funds that city officials are scrambling to secure.
“Pre-pandemic we weren’t necessarily flush with cash and our fiscal woes forever gone,” City Manager Zach Walker said. “Some of the tough conversations we’d had, like with health insurance, had given us some breathing room.”
“The pandemic really brought us a whole other level of financial concern. Really what it’s doing is exacerbating a downward trend cities were up against” with less sales tax revenue.
Walker said much capital project funding comes from sales taxes dedicated to streets, sewers, parks and tourism. The street sales tax alone will have about $3.8 millionless in capital projects this year, about half due to the pandemic.
“We’re making long-term decisions on information that’s changing daily, which is not an ideal way to do business,” Walker said, “but it is forcing us to innovate.”
Cutting the bus routes saves about $825,000, and city officials are scrambling to avoid making that cut, working with the Kansas City Area Transit Authority to secure federal emergency funds.
Council Members Karen DeLuccie and Scott Roberson, among others, suggested during Monday’s council meeting that the city could dedicate much of the extra Community Development Block Grant funds coming its way, or cut some travel and meeting funds, toward the bus service.
“People make decisions based on facts today,” DeLuccie said regarding bus service, “I don’t believe our community can wait 45 days for stability.”
The City Council will have the first reading on the budget June 1 and is scheduled to vote on the budget June 15. Presuming the June 2 council elections go forward as rescheduled, at least two new council members will be sworn in after the current council votes on the budget.
Also of note from the budget:
• Four additional police officers and two sergeants (plus vehicles and supplies), using revenues from the voter-approved use tax, and $80,000 less in detention services by switching to ankle bracelet monitoring for some detainees.
• More than $400,000 will be saved by merging the Water Pollution Control and Public Works departments into a new Municipal Services Department, including six fewer positions.
• The Power & Light budget of $142.3 million is about $1.78 million less than last year, with 24 fewer positions due in large part to closing the Blue Valley Power Plant.
• Walker separated the portion of revenue from the real property tax for public health and recreation (about $2.6 million) out of the general fund, so it can be dedicated to the Animal Services and Parks, Recreation and Tourism and departments – the latter about two-thirds of the funds.