Kiowa Council holds five-hour marathon meeting
• Deeply divided on budget vote, 3rd police officer source of contention
August 14, 2019
It appeared to be an impasse for several hours, but near 1 a.m., as nerves were frazzled, hands massaged foreheads, eyes were rubbed – the three “no” votes became two and the Kiowa City Council approved a proposed 2020 budget to be published. This was at the regular August meeting of the Kiowa City Council Monday night with all members present including Mayor Bill Watson, president R.L. Simpson and councilmen Russ Molz, Brent Shaffer, Brian Hill and Tom Wells. City Clerk Trish Brewer and City Attorney Brandon Ritcha also sat at the table.
The Barber County Clerk Debbie Wesley reportedly allowed the council an extension to Sept. 1 to get their annual proposed budget filed. This is because the city's budget was not completed by Lou Leone, former administrator who was supposed to have the budget finished before he left his job at the end of June. But as reported from special and regular council meetings since, the council was not pleased with the budget Leone had started.
A week ago Tuesday, the council held a special meeting to further work on the budget, however, they didn't get anything finalized. Mayor Watson and Brewer had worked diligently on the budget prior to that meeting.
“Trish has done most of the work,” the mayor said, complimenting the city clerk and thanking her.
In a nutshell, at that meeting they came out proposing a 10 mill increase; a .7 cent/kilowatt hour increase for residential customers (which would generate about $30,000 revenue for a year) and possibly an increase in a residential meter charge from $4 to $8. The mayor said this would also generate about another
$30,000. Council would use the Tax Lid exemption for the fire department in this scenario, Watson explained.
Since that meeting Simpson has worked diligently with others (Brewer, the mayor, Wells a little, KPD Chief Nate Houston) trying to come up with a budget that works. Simpson said the budget they created has the police department going to salaried employees instead of hourly wages with overtime pay and on-call pay. He said this proposal would save the city money. Simpson distributed handouts to the council of the budget they propose.
“This budget does not raise a single mill,” Simpson said.
Simpson's budget would include the electric meter charge increase; the kilowatt increase; and the police officers with a salary and not hourly pay. It also calls for the council members to forfeit their small monthly pay. In all it totals $5800 annually.
Simpson said with all those considerations, the 2020 budget would still be short about $42,000 they would take out of reserves. “We would back off of non-essentials,” he said.
When Simpson called for a vote for this budget, the motion failed 2-3. The no votes were cast by Shaffer, Hill and Molz.
After the motion failed, Molz said, “It seems like we spend half of our time helping the county (the sheriff's office) and we're not getting reimbursed.”
Simpson said, “Now we have no where to go with our budget.” Brewer and the city attorney reminded the council that by law the city must submit a budget by the deadline. Molz said, “I guess we need to cut our third officer. We were lied to before – but the money is not there like we were told.” Molz said later in the meeting that Kiowa does not need 24 hour police coverage.
“It looks like your shovin' it down our throats,” Molz said.
“It's not right to cut our police,” Simpson said. “Part of us sat here and worked on this budget. Those of you who didn't help with the budget, what is your suggestion?”
Molz, Hill and Shaffer sat for long periods, not saying anything. You could feel the tension in the heated room. Finally, Mayor Watson called for a short break and the council covered other agenda items before going back to this topic.
Shaffer said when those police officers were hired they had the understanding they would get 40 hours plus overtime and on-call pay. He thinks the officers would experience more burnout as a salaried employee – not paid for those overtime hours.
Watson said he understands if the councilmen feel rushed. “We have to give our budget to the paper this week.”
Finally at Simpson's direction they started agreeing to one step at a time. Items agreed upon include:
• Charge a kilowatt/hour increase of .002 to commercial customers; and .004 to residential customers;
• Charge an additional $2 per electric meter for all customers;
• Go with the Police Department officers on salary (not hourly) for one year;
• Council will give up their pay for the year. This amounts to a total of $5800 the city pays each year.
They made enough cuts to only possibly need to take $27,000 out of reserves if needed later.
When it came down to a vote, the measure passed. Voting yes was Simpson, Wells and Molz. Shaffer and Hill voted no.
The City of Kiowa Budget Hearing is Aug. 29 at 6 p.m. The council approved that date 5-0.