Responding to comments made at budget hearing

Augusta City Manager Josh Shaw at Monday’s city council meeting responded to questions and comments made during the public hearing on Aug. 7 concerning the 2018 Budget.
“There appeared to be about five themes brought up in the hearing: the city is drowning in debt, people can’t afford to live here, that there is a transparency issue with city staff, and some mis-information concerning city expenditures,” Shaw said.
“I believe the City of Augusta has been very transparent.  The budget was discussed at length.  At several meetings - it’s been available on the website since February.”
Shaw pointed out that current information on the city’s debt is posted on the city’s website, and is also included in the budget, which is available, as well.
“Augusta is not drowning in debt,” he said and shared a graph of total bonded indebtedness of similar sized cities.  Augusta was ranked lower than Andover, Bel Aire, Chanute, Coffeyville, Mulvane, and McPherson.
Also mentioned at the Aug. 7 public hearing was that the use of bonds is living beyond means.
“We use them strategically.  They are not utilized needlessly,” Shaw continued, “It’s the same as citizens having loans or mortgages.  Are they living beyond their means because they didn’t  pay in cash? It’s a strategy used for financial projects.”
The City has a AA bond rating, which means it has strong capacity to meet its financial commitments.  Rates are at historically low levels, as well.
Shaw spoke on the five major Pride and Progress projects that were completed in 2016-2017.
“Those projects are financed by Pride and Progress fund, not by property taxes.  It has allowed us to deliver planned projects sooner,” Shaw added, “We’ve created a destination park and have a unique trail that connects the north part of town to the northwest part...we now have the automated curbside trash pickup and recycling with top of the line equipment.”
Another false perception held by some residents is that the city is paying for paving the east side of the City Lake Road.
“That won’t be paid out of the Street Sales Tax Fund.  It’s paid out of the Pride and Progress Initiative.”
In addressing the city’s overall expenditures, Shaw advised that claiming the expenditures are increasing is not fully accurate, as the amount fluctuates.  More information  on expenditures and city transfers can also  found on the city’s website.
Shaw confirmed that behind-the-scenes negotiations continue concerning the Mulvane water contract and the El Dorado water line.  
“We initiated a lawsuit with the City of Mulvane.  Is the next step a trial?  Appeals?  Judgements?” Shaw added, “It’s fair to say that  people haven’t seen a lot of progress...Part two of depositions will be Thursday.  It’s the most exhausting standstill I’ve ever experienced.”
There are new rounds of negotiations scheduled with El Dorado concerning the water line.
“We had to take a step back and make adjustments.  We want to give it due diligence and make the right decision for the community.”
Shaw outlined some of the adjustments; design changes, routing changes, line size adjustments, the recent regional water district discussion, and the Mulvane lawsuit.
Following Shaw’s presentation, Mayor Matt Childers said that he was preparing a newspaper column concerning the budget and  information from Shaw’s presentation.  
Visitor requests
The council approved a request from Andy Hall and the Augusta High School Booster Club for a bon fire at the front of the lake peninsula from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Aug. 30, 2017.  The bonfire event is for a pep rally sponsored by the AHS Booster Club and will prior to the first AHS football game.  Hall agreed to take a roller magnet to the fire site to collect any nails left from the pallets used in the fire.
Candace Kunkel, with Re/Max on the Move, asked for permission to host a Customer Appreciation Fall Festival from noon to 5 p.m. on Oct. 21, at the stage area in Garvin Park.  Council approved the request.
Kelly Modlin requested that the City consider both buildings of the Twisted Oz Motorcycle Museum as one account and that he would the museum to be considered for utility abatement.  The council approved creating one account for both buildings on the site and instructed Modlin to make a formal application for abatement.
Read more about Monday’s City Council meeting in Saturday’s TG edition.