Manhattan approves ’21 budget, sales tax ballot question, extends mask ordinance

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Manhattan Tuesday unanimously approved its 2021 budget, featuring a flat mill levy and no salary increases for city employees.
Though approved to the tune of about $166 million — a $3 million increase due to additional sales tax revenue earmarked for the new middle school recreation centers — reductions will be necessary in the ’21 budget to cover a $2.7 million revenue shortfall. Manhattan administrative indicated the hole would be plugged with $1.5 million in budget reductions and $1.2 million in transfers from multiple city accounts.
The majority of transfers were proposed to be drawn from the city’s water, wastewater and storm water funds. The remainder would be sourced from economic development dollars.

Courtesy of the City of Manhattan

Commissioners also preferred less targeted cuts than first proposed to address the $1.5 million in reductions necessary to balance the budget. Initially, cuts were targeted toward the programs with the most seasonal and part-time staff and those that had the lowest cost recovery rates — which would have resulted in Parks and Recreation taking the lion’s share of reductions and the closure of Northview and CiCo pools in 2021.
City staff instead presented the commission with a picture of what more across the board cuts would look like, noting 5 to 10 percent budget reductions would be required in most departments to meet the $1.5 million mark — though commissioners expressed interest in sparing departments such as Legal, Human Resources and the Fire Department from those cuts.

City staff crunched numbers to show what the impact of 5 to 10 percent reductions in city departments would look like. Not all of the listed reductions will occur, though the city’s financial situation in 2021 will be the deciding factor. (Courtesy of the City of Manhattan)

Despite the flat mill levy, the city did see approximately 1.8 percent in property valuation growth. That adds an additional $500,000 in revenue to Manhattan’s coffers. Owners of a residence valued at $200,000 can expect an annual city property tax bill in 2021 of about $388. Commercial properties valued at $500,000 can expect an annual city property tax bill of about $2,112 per year. That doesn’t factor in bills from Riley County and USD383.
Commissioners Tuesday provided no further guidance on how to target those reductions, which Mayor Pro Tem. Wynn Butler says empowers city administrative staff.
“What that means is money will be diverted out of the water funds to help make this happen,” says Butler. “Whatever cuts happen, like pool closures or whatever, have all been given to the city manager to decide how to do.”
Butler had submitted a multi-page document detailing his preferences on how to target cuts, previously saying he is not in favor of across the board cuts.
Mayor Usha Reddi, though, says the commission has provided guidance on the budget. She provided examples like their push to stem salary raises and their rejection of targeting cuts solely within the Parks and Recreation Department, as well as assertions by multiple commissioners to keep Fire, Legal and HR whole by directing cuts to other departments.
“We gave direction where we needed to and left it up to them to make the other decisions,” says Reddi. “Also knowing that SPARK money, we would be eligible for some of those SPARK funds [which]might fill those gaps.”
Riley County has received $15 million in round 1 SPARK funds, the state’s distribution program for federal CARES Act relief dollars for local governments. Manhattan is hoping to receive a portion of the funds, though the exact funding it will receive remains to be seen.
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Manhattan voters will have the opportunity this November to decide whether to replace the city’s portion of the current Riley County economic development sales tax with a new city-wide tax.
City Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to send the question to the November ballot in place of continuing the current tax, which does not draw revenue from the Pottawatomie County side of the city — home to businesses including Walmart and Menard’s.
The tax would not go into effect until January 1, 2023 and would leave the sales tax rate the same in the Riley County side of the city while raising taxes on sales in Manhattan’s Pottawatomie County businesses. If passed, sales tax rates in such businesses would rise by a half cent from 8.95 percent to 9.45 percent and increase the city’s annual takeaway from $3 million to $6.5 million.
Commissioners preferred a 70-20-10 for public infrastructure and debt payments, job creation and employee retention, and housing initiatives respectively. City officials see it as a replacement of their portion of the existing Riley County sales tax, which expires in 2022, though county commissioners disagree with that phrasing.
The question reads:
“Shall a retailers’ sales tax in the amount of one-half of one percent (0.5%) be levied within the city limits of Manhattan, Kansas, for the purposes of stimulating recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and reducing the ad valorem property tax burden on City taxpayers; to achieve such purposes, the revenue from the additional tax shall be used as follows:
I. approximately 70% of the funds shall pay for outstanding city debt and the costs related to public infrastructure;
II. approximately 20% of the funds shall pay for job creation, recruitment or retention initiatives; and,
III. approximately 10% of the funds shall pay for workforce housing initiatives.
With the means and methods to accomplish said purposes to be determined in the sole discretion of the Governing Body of the City; such additional tax, levied pursuant to K.S.A. 12-187, if approved by a majority of the electors voting thereon, to take effect January 1, 2023, or as soon as thereafter as permitted by law and notice requirements allow, and to expire ten years from the date the tax is first collected?”
Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jason Smith wrote a public comment in support of the sales tax’s intent. He, in conjunction with the Chamber board, believe there is no more important time for such an investment in economic development, saying the tax will assist with COVID-19 recovery efforts in the private sector.
“As you know, we used economic development funds this spring to help nearly 100 businesses stay open in difficult times. We may face additional challenges that require resources soon,” Smith writes. “In preparation for this discussion, the Chamber has undertaken polling of the community to determine the current level of support for this proposal.
“We saw strong support for both asking voters to approve a sales tax collected throughout the entire city of Manhattan, as well as designated proceeds for tax reduction, infrastructure and job creation. We also know there is strong support for housing, which is a primary component of attracting a skilled workforce.”
Reddi was the sole detractor on the vote, but not because she disagreed with the plan for the tax.
“I don’t think this is the right time, the right year to be doing this,” says Reddi. “I think next year would have been more preferable.
“I just feel this year with so many challenges, there might not be enough appetite for us to reach out to our residents and ask for a sales tax on the November election.”
Butler said he’s ‘100 percent’ for the tax going to the ballot, while stressing the sales taxes won’t double up — noting the current economic development sales tax sunsets before the proposed tax would go into effect if approved by voters.
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Face coverings will be required within Manhattan city limits both indoors and when physical distancing is not possible outdoors through the end of the year.
City Commissioners Tuesday voted 3 to 2 to extend the city’s mask ordinance through December 31st. Manhattan first approved the ordinance July 7th amid a local COVID-19 case spike, which also received support from K-State, Fort Riley and local health professionals. The move also followed a Riley County Commission decision to opt out of the governor’s mask mandate, which would have made violations a civil rather than criminal offense. Cities do not have statutory authority to add civil offenses to the books in that manner.
“If we want our community to stay safe and open, we will do this because K-State closed before in Spring semester,” says Commissioner Linda Morse, noting the move is in line with mask requirements on K-State’s campus as well as Fort Riley. “There’s no guarantee, it depends on how bad it gets, whether they switch to online or whether they close.”

Under the ordinance, masks covering the mouth and nose will be required in indoor and outdoor public spaces where physical distancing’s not possible within city limits.

That includes when in lines to enter the premises, in public transit or ride-share services and while getting health care. Businesses must require them of employees working among the public, during food service and preparation, or in enclosed spaces where physical distancing’s not possible.

Exemptions exist for those aged 5 and under, those with conditions with which masks reduce breathing capacity, the deaf and hard of hearing as well as those communicating with them for lip-reading purposes, those receiving a nose/face service, those seated to dine and in jobs where a mask would create a safety risk. Masks also won’t be required of athletes of sports that can occur with physical distancing or if regulatory or athletic organizations make alternate rulings on mask safety during play.

Violations can be punishable with a $5 for first offense, $10 for second, $20 subsequent. All incidents will result in $98 in court costs for each infraction as well. Enforcement, though, will ultimately fall to RCPD discretion.

Reddi says since the ordinance was first implemented, the majority of residents have done well at complying with the requirement during the summer — noting the reduction in weekly percent positives since July.

Even so, she raised concerns about the ordinance’s enforcement in light of large numbers of people not wearing masks in Aggieville and around K-State the weekend before classes began. Reddi says lack of vigilance could lead to percent positive rates rising above 10 percent, the threshold for USD 383 to move to remote education.

“I feel like in this instance, it’s almost by complaint,” says Reddi. “As though I need to see somebody or somebody else needs to see somebody and call it in.”

RCPD Director Dennis Butler says he’s handled the ordinance consistently with his and the department’s approach to new ordinances in the past, by urging voluntary compliance, issuing warnings as well as in this case handing out masks rather than citing people in all cases.

“It would be irresponsible for me to say, in like in a traffic situation, every time you see this you will issue a traffic citation,” Director Butler says, noting officers have discretion to cite or not based on the context of each individual situation. “I’m just not going to take that approach.
“I’ve mentioned before […] there’s a certain climate going on in this country that has nothing to do with COVID — it has to do with other things — and I’m keenly aware of that and I’m keenly aware of that even before the current situation that we’re facing. Preserving the trust in this department, our judgment, how we exercise our authority is very important once we emerge from the crisis we’re in with COVID.”
Reddi, though, says she doesn’t think they have the time to educate and train people to comply with the nature of the novel coronavirus.
“We don’t have a year,” she says. “This is it, we get one shot at this.”
“I completely agree with [stopping the spread of the virus]and I’m not against wearing masks,” says Director Butler. “But I don’t think that if we started writing every single person that appeared to be in violation that we would do what you are trying to accomplish.”
Mayor Pro Tem Butler reiterated his preference for the county upholding the governor’s order as the offense would have been civil rather than criminal. In light of their decision, though, he voiced support for a resolution that takes an education approach rather than one that criminalizes. Butler pointed to the example of K-State Police, who are not issuing citations for violations and instead faculty and students in violation are being reprimanded through internal channels at the university. He saw the difference in enforcement mechanisms as problematic.
Commissioner Mark Hatesohl agreed, saying it’s hard to convince people to comply if they don’t see the danger in the virus. A frequent detractor of the severity of COVID-19, he notes 80 percent of cases in Riley County have been asymptomatic according to the health department.
“Most everybody is not that ill, so we can ask people to wear the masks but we just can’t keep beating people over the head to wear it when the risk for the average joe — especially young people — isn’t that bad.”
Currently, more than 50 percent of Kansas’ population lives in areas with mask mandates of some form. K-State Chief of Staff Linda Cook spoke during public comment saying there is data to support the effectiveness of masks in stemming viral spread, also noting the White House’s coordinator for its COVID-19 task force Dr. Deborah Birx has also vouched for them and said Kansas — particularly rural communities — are still susceptible to the virus.
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About Author

Nick McNamara

Local government reporter, sometimes host/producer of the KMAN Morning Show. 2017 Long Beach State graduate in Journalism/Native American cultures. Los Angeles County born and raised. Nick can be reached at Nick@1350KMAN.com.

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