By Allen Edmonds
In a 14-page narrative issued along with her proposed fiscal 2021 budget, Belton City Manager Alexa Barton asked city leaders and citizens to continue the support shown for public safety and public works in recent years as she detailed new and even greater needs for the upcoming year.
The $74.6 million budget proposal unveiled to the City Council Tuesday night represents a spending increase of nearly $1.1 million, of 1.7 percent over the fiscal 2020 budget, with new spending forecast for a major road project, the upcoming police chief transition and the possibility of a state audit, which could cost the city up to $150,000.
The road project – a long-awaited upgrade to the M-58 Highway and Peculiar Drive intersection which is mainly funded by state and federal funds, will be supplemented by $527,697 in city funds for the Peculiar Drive and Outer Road portion of the project.
The funds will go for the easements, engineering and design and right-of-way acquisition necessary to further the project, whic hwill provide right-in, right-out access along M-58 from Interstate 49 to Mullen Road.
The project will significantly re-route Peculiar Drive, relieving the pressure at the chokepoint where M-58 and I-49 meet.
Another major expense comes as the city prepares to transition from elected Police Chief Jim Person to an appointed chief at the end of Person’s term in April 2021. The change was approved by voters in 2018.
Barton has budgeted $50,000 for consultant services in connection with the hiring of a new chief, and $170,000 to the position itself, so that the new chief can be on-board while Person is still in office, enabling what she hopes to be a smooth transition in department leadership.
She also budgeted $150,000 to fund a state audit, which a group of Belton voters has begun a petition drive to force.
If enough signatures are gathered by citizens in the upcoming months, State Auditor Nicole Galloway would be asked to audit the city’s finances – a task the city would be required to pay for.
Barton said in her budget message that the City’s reserve fund is projected to end fiscal 2021 with a reserve balance at 14.3 percent, just under the required amount of 15 percent set by city code.
She said without the state audit, the reserve would remain above the required amount at 15.4 percent.
“This will be closely monitored, and should a state audit occur, the City would be forced to make reductions and adjustments to the FY 2021 budget in order to stay at the required minimum 15 percent fund balance reserve.
The Council can authorize spending that takes the reserve below 15 percent, and has done just that in recent years, however.
What could have the largest impact on individual citizens is a proposed water rate increase of 10 percent, on top of the expected 4 percent rate hike from the city’s wholesale water supplier, Kansas City.
In addition, she said, the 10 percent increase will be followed by four successive annual increases and then reassessed after the fifth. These increases, also, would be above the increase amount set by Kansas City. The current plan is to increase rates by 10 percent in 2021, 8 percent in 2022 and 2023, 3 percent in 2024 and 2 percent in 2025, to cover anticipated major infrastructure repair costs.
Belton Water Services Manager Don Tyler gave the council a presentation in December that showed much of the city’s water infrastructure to be anywhere from 50 to 75 years of age, well beyond its life expectancy. Some pipes were even older.
Under this plan, that infrastructure would be replaced as part of a 20-year plan.