Budget meeting produces lively discussion

By Dennis Minich

The Harrisonville Board of Aldermen appear poised to approve the 2020 budget for the city despite numerous objections by a minority of aldermen.

Acting City Administrator Mike Tholen first unveiled the proposed budget last month and it has been discussed at two work sessions, one special meeting and Monday night’s regular meeting. In each case, five or six members of the board have voted, officially or in straw votes, to approve budget as presented.

Alderman Brad Bockelman has missed all of the meetings, including Monday’s and David Dickerson has voted against the budget each time and Clint Miller has opposed certain items.

The same was the case during the work session prior to Monday night’s regular board meeting.

As explained by Tholen, most of the general fund budget is similar to last year. There are no major capital expenditures, there is money for three new police cars and shower facilities in the police locker room and some repairs to city hall.

There are two personnel changes proposed including the hiring of an economic development director and increasing the city administrator’s executive assistant from a part-time to a full-time job.

The economic director’s job was one heavily criticized by Dickerson and brought some interesting comments during the discussion.

Dickerson said, “I am not comfortable with the economic development director’s position. I think we would be better served if we waited. The county has an economic director and we could use him and not spend $95,000. We are already paying him through the county and he hits the same places we would.”

“Whether it’s Harrisonville, Peculiar, Raymore or Belton, he works the same for all of us.”

Alderman Gary Davidson countered, “We need to have someone with our interests at heart. His job is to promote the county so whether it’s Belton or Raymore or Pleasant Hill, it’s all just as good for him.”

Miller also expressed concerns even though the board has already voted to establish the position.

“I voted against it then,” he said. “We have staff, Roger Kroh and Chris Arthur, who can handle the job. I think we need to wait because we don’t know what the new health insurance rates are going to be. I think in a year we might be in a better position to know.”

Again, it was Davidson who countered the argument.

“It we are going to worry about the cost of things going up, we could make the exact same argument next year. We are not going to be progressive if we don’t get out there and do it ourselves. Besides, the staff members you mentioned, they already have full-time jobs,” Davidson said.

Alderman Judy Reece agreed the position is necessary.

“We may not have as much money as we would like, but that’s part of the reason we need to hire someone,” she said.

Mayor Judy Bowman said the other cities which had been mentioned, Belton, Raymore and Peculiar, all have economic development directors and cited numbers about growth, including the fact that the Harrisonville School District has had decreasing enrollment for the past four years and her church has lost about half of its membership.

“Growth is going on all around us and I am shocked to hear of these population drops,” she said.

Dickerson disagreed with the problem.

“I think you have it backward. I have heard it said by more than one person the reason people don’t move to Harrisonville is the schools. I don’t have kids, but if I did, I would want them to go to Harrisonville. I wouldn’t want them to go to Ray-Pec because they have a lot of problems with gangs and such,” Dickerson said.

Miller added he thinks part of the problems with growth in Harrisonville results from housing.

“Contractors are not building what the people in this town need,” he said. “Most of the houses built recently are upper end. Maybe people don’t want $240,000 to $250,000 houses.”

After Dickerson said the city has had economic directors before and didn’t get anything, Bowman said the ADP plant is the result of efforts by former director Jim Clark, who now works in a similar capacity in Peculiar.

Dickerson disagreed.

“They forced them out of the Warner property. We wanted them on the Smith property where they would have used all city water and all city electricity,” he said.

Alderman Marcia Milner challenged the statement. “Do you know that for a fact?”

Dickerson replied, “Yes.”

She added “You were present at the meeting?”

Again, Dickerson said yes.

Milner replied, “Why weren’t we present? Why didn’t the rest of the members of the board not know about that?”

Dickerson answered, “I guess you weren’t invited?”

Bowman remarked, “Apparently there were a lot of things we weren’t invited to,” referring to former Mayor Brian Hasek.

Dickerson also questioned the police department’s request for two new patrol cars.

“We just bought them three last year. It seems like he (Police Chief John Hofer) just keeps asking for cars and we keep giving them to him,” Dickerson said.

“These police cars are not gifts to the police chief,” Reece said. “We are providing services for the department. These aren’t gifts to anyone.”

There were also objections to $56,000 for the police locker room facilities as well as adding the Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday to the list of city holidays.

Dickerson said he thinks the $11,000 cost is too much and Miller said city workers should just be given a floating holiday which they can use that day if they wished.

In the final straw vote, the car purchase was approved 5-2, Dickerson and Miller opposed; the locker room work passed 6-1, Dickerson opposed; and the King Holiday passed, 5-2, Dickerson and Miller opposed.

During the regular meeting, budgeted increases in the city’s electric and water rates were again argued.

A flat increase of $2.73 monthly is being requested on electric bills, making the base rate $7 and average sewer bill will increase about $4.50 per month.

The city has not increased the electric rate in 11 years and the sewer rate has not increased in five years. Both increases were below what was projected in studies.

The electric increase is necessary for increased costs and the sewer increase will in part fund a study required by the state to bring the city’s sewer plant up to required specifications.

Bowman said following the meeting, “No one likes rate increases. There should have been gradual increases every year, but instead we’ve waited so the increase is larger than we would like.”

But it was also noted, Harrisonville’s electric rates are among the lowest in the area and only Archie has a lower sewer rate.

The rate increases were read for the first time, but motions to move them to an immediate second reading were voted down by Dickerson, Miller and Matt Turner.

The budget was read for the first time with final action planned at the Nov. 18 meeting.

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