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Wednesday, Jul. 06, 2011

Olathe considers end to cutbacks in 2012 budget

jlambe@theolathenews.com

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The Olathe city manager on Tuesday bragged to the City Council that his proposed 2012 general fund budget is boring, although a change will make it easier for citizens to weigh in on it.

Three years of cutbacks came to an end with the proposal for an $83.9 million budget, a 1 percent increase over this year’s budget.

“I’m happy that it’s plain and vanilla,” Michael Wilkes said, and he praised the council for years of cutbacks that left Olathe in better shape than most cities.

The general fund budget goes mainly for public safety, like police and firefighters, and for transportation items.

Wilkes proposed no tax increases and spoke of employee raises that are expected to be about 1.5 percent.

Also, Olathe plans to lease vehicles for snow control rather than buying three-quarter ton trucks for other city work just so they also can be used for snow removal. The city could save gas money by buying smaller vehicles, Wilkes said.

To put things in perspective, he said, the proposed budget is about equal to that of 2008 and the effects of the recession are still in play.

The income projections are intentionally conservative, he said. “We’re taking a slow-back-in approach.”

General fund jobs and the general fund budget were cut 11 percent from 2008 to 2011, he reported, and staff still predicts sales tax growth of only 1.5 percent and half-percent drop in assessed valuation.

“I think this is conservative but not too much so,” he said.

The city will also stress innovation in the budget process and operations, Wilkes said, including an e-Town Hall program this year to give citizens input in the 2012 budget.

People can go to www.olatheks.org or the city’s Facebook page to see the proposed budget and enter their questions and concerns. Before the July 19 City Council meeting, council members will answer questions on live television and a webcast.

Few other cities or counties take citizen input to their budget process that way, but it is growing more popular, said Libby Bolling, event producer for Pinellas County, Fla. That city started last year with email and a blog for information and questions on the budget, expanded to cover other subjects and now is cited as leaders on the approach, she said. “It’s catching on.”

The City Council will hold three workshops on the budget and is projected to approve it on Aug. 16.

In other action Tuesday, the council changed city fines for not using seat belts to comply with a new state law.

The state law caps fines for adults at $10 and for children for $60. Before that, Olathe’s fines were $30 for adults and $60 for children.

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