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Friday, Mar. 22, 2013

City Council lays out priorities for next Olathe budget

Special to The Star

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Making residents feel safe and developing long-term economic strategies are the top priorities that Olathe City Council members say should guide the city’s next budget, according to a survey released this week.

This is the second year the council has anonymously taken the survey, which indicates what guidelines they think should be used when creating the next city budget.

This year’s results were similar to those of last year, with the top priorities remaining the same.

For the second year in a row, council members said their top priorities were making residents feel safe in person and in property, meeting financial challenges of the future with priority-based decision making focused on long-term strategy, and pursuing economic viability by focusing on business recruitment and expansion.

They also decided to keep last year’s council guidelines in mind during the budgeting process. Those include no mill levy increase, maintaining infrastructure, using citizen survey results to guide resource allocation, and exercising innovative problem solving.

“Council members take this survey after finding out the Direction Finder (survey of residents) results, so their answers are mostly based on what the citizens want,” said Mayor Michael Copeland. “Olathe has its own water, sewer, trash and library system, which most other cities in Johnson County don’t have, and that makes for a very complex budget process. This survey allows us to set our priorities in a systematic fashion and give all the council members an equal opportunity for input.”

This year marked the first time that the survey asked council members to rank their priorities for the Capital Improvement Plan. The top priorities in that category ended up being public safety, transportation and downtown.

The city’s budget department will use the survey results and other feedback to put together proposed budget guidelines to share with city leaders and the council on April 16.

Council input, however, is only one piece of the puzzle, the mayor said.

“The budget is a very important process and each tool we use, from this survey to resident input, plays a critical role in how we allocate the resources of the community,” he said.

Emily Vincent, the city’s budget manager, agreed and added that the council survey was merely the kickoff to a lengthy budget process.

Throughout spring and summer, Olathe will hold numerous budget workshops, as well as the annual e-Town Hall meeting in which answers to residents’ budget questions are telecast live on the city’s website. And residents are welcome to contact the budget department with questions, concerns or suggestions at any time.

“We encourage residents to give their input as we get ready to develop the budget,” said Vincent. “After all, it is their budget and their tax dollars.”

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