JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Some big issues were on the table for discussion Wednesday as Junction City officials sat down for a one-on-one meeting with members of the community.
Junction City's City Manager Jerry Vernon and other city leaders met with citizens at La Fiesta Restaurant on Chestnut Street Wednesday afternoon for an informal meeting called "Coffee Conversations with the City Manager."
"These conversations that I have with the community help myself and help the city commission make some of the tough decisions... It’s all about transparency. They see what we’re doing, they give me comments on what they would like and what they don’t like and the commission listens and really better decisions, I think, are made," Vernon said of his laid-back meetings.
One of the topics addressed over lunch was the 2013 budget. A first draft was presented at the Junction City Commission meeting Tuesday night and it includes a city tax decrease for property owners.
"I unveiled the 2013 budget last night. It was an introduction to the commission and the community. As we expected, we did some tremendous things in our recovery and now we’re reaping the benefits of those seeds that we sowed in last year’s budget and I’m able to reduce the mill levy coming out of the start. Now we have a tremendous amount of work to do, there’s union contracts to be negotiated yet but on its face, this initial draft is about a 2 mill levy decrease. That’s good news for the community," Vernon told 13 News.
The group also talked about Tuesday night's 3-2 vote by the city commission for Junction City to take control of its public works operations from Veolia Water.
"Our fiscal transformation plan- this was another method to stabilize the city by taking over the operations, taking command and control of those operations which are the lifeblood of any city and so last night, it passed through the commission on a 3 to 2 vote. We amended the contracts, restated them. Veolia is going to continue with our water and waste water treatment plants however, the remaining streets, trash, building maintenance, fleet maintenance, water and sewer distribution and other items will now be retained and controlled by the city. If we have fiscal problems in the future, we can now make cuts on the whole pie, all of the city departments instead of three quarters of them and that’s huge…. In the future, we may look at privatization again. I’m not totally against it. But in this instance, it wasn’t working and we needed to get it back to where we had command and control and continue the recovery process," the city manager explained.
Officials say the move will save the city more than $500,000 a year.
"I started in 2010. I said 2010 was fiscal crisis, 2011 was recovery, the 2012 budget represents stability and now I’m looking at 2013 as normalcy. Junction City’s normal operations are going to be different because of our huge debt than most cities but we can still look at returning to doing what normal cities do and that’s been tremendously satisfying for me, the community has stepped up to the plate, the employees stepped up to the plate. It looks like we’re getting through all this mess," Vernon said.
In March, the Kansas Senate gave first-round approval to legislation giving Junction City more flexibility in managing its debt.
The measure would give the city an additional three years to reduce the ratio of outstanding debt to its total property valuation. The limit would remain at 37 percent under the bill through June 2016.
Junction City issued bonds in the past decade to make improvements related to the return of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division to Fort Riley. City officials and supporters of the debt extension said the expected level of growth didn’t occur, leaving the city in financial difficulty.
The bill cleared the House in February and would go to Gov. Sam Brownback on final Senate passage.
The next community conversation meeting will be held June 26, 2012 at the C.L. Hoover Opera House on West 7th Street in at 7 PM.