City of Topeka property tax level next year to stay the same

An overhead screen in Topeka City Council chambers outlined the results of that evening’s vote by the city’s governing body on the 2018 city budget. (Tim Hrenchir/The Capital-Journal)

Topeka’s governing body Tuesday evening approved a 2018 city budget expected to keep the city’s property tax mill levy at this year’s level while increasing spending on streets.

 

Governing body members voted 9-1, with City Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz dissenting, to approve a $292.9 million budget that maintains the levy at this year’s level of 39.927 mills. That amounts to $459.16 annually in city property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Councilman Brendan Jensen congratulated the city staff members who helped craft interim city manager Doug Gerber’s proposed budget.

“You guys are a crack team and you’ve done a bang-up job,” he said.

But Ortiz said she couldn’t support the budget so long as it provided only $30,000 for the city’s Way to Work youth employment program, which is receiving $50,000 this year.

“That’s how strong I believe that we need to do something for these kids,” she said.

The budget approved Tuesday calls for the city government to spend $2 million more on streets and $1.4 million more on health insurance for its employees next year than this year.

The city will avoid raising property taxes by increasing revenues and making cuts in other areas, including reducing the amount of general fund money it provides in grants to social services agencies to $552,000 from $650,000.

The approved budget will also achieve $150,000 in savings by providing the Topeka Performing Arts Center $150,000 instead of the $300,000 it received this year and requested for 2018. The city will continue to cover utility, facility and insurance fees it pays on TPAC’s behalf.

The city’s property tax levy is part of a total property tax bill that includes levies for other government entities, including Shawnee County, Washburn University, public school districts and local transit, library and airport authorities.

The anticipated tax levy is based on an estimate of Shawnee County’s property values. Final property values will become available late this year.

Tuesday’s budget vote came at 6:55 p.m. Richard Harmon, a member of the council since 2005 who has chosen not to seek re-election this year, said he thought that was the earliest he’d ever seen the governing body finalize the following year’s budget during its annual “Budget Night” discussions.

Between 2003 and 2012, seven of 10 Budget Night meetings went past midnight. In recent years, however, the governing body has tended to finalize the budget earlier in the evening.

This marked the fourth straight year Topeka’s city manager proposed a budget arranging for property tax levels to stay the same, with city managers previously usually proposing budgets that would raise taxes.

The governing body in 2014, 2015 and 2016 approved budgets containing spending limits seeking to keep property tax levels the same — though after property valuation numbers were finalized, the city mill levy went down slightly in 2015 and up slightly in 2016 and 2017.

Contact reporter Tim Hrenchir at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.

 

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