By BECKY KISER
Hay city commissioners are considering two mill levy increases specifically for economic development and social services funding in the 2022 budget.
"Let's look at a one-half mill levy increase for economic development," Mayor Sandy Jacobs suggested during Thursday evening's work session. "It would offer some sustainable income. I think it's really difficult to operate a group like Grow Hays when you don't know where your next dollar is coming from."
Vice-Mayor Mason Ruder went further in his support and said an economic development mill levy should be higher, at three-quarters of a mill.
"Especially with what we've seen with unemployment rates, we need [to] bring more people in, bring more housing, bring more jobs," Ruder said.
"Even at three-quarters [of a mill], it's not matching what our comparable communities do, but it's something. ... Economic development needs funded or we're going to start dying."
Doug Williams, Grow Hays executive director, told commissioners that Garden City has economic development mill levies from the city, county, and community college.
"If we did this, we would be on par," Williams said. "Right now we're spending about half of what Garden City does on economic development. Their annual budget is around $475,000."
Competing with peer cities is not easy, said Shaun Musil, commissioner. "We hear from the community all the time to look at what other cities are doing. ... We don't have the factories and stuff but we can't let up."
Musil is "100 percent" supportive of a mill ley for consistent economic development funding.
"Since I've been on here, we went from cutting them, to giving them more, to cutting, to giving more."
Commissioner Michael Berges supports an additional mill levy of 0.75 mills for the CARE Council which funds a number of local social service programs. His request was in a letter ready by Jacobs as Berges was absent from the meeting.
"I believe stabilizing the annual funding for the agencies' requests to CARE Council will eliminate some of the unknowns of available funding that can come in fluctuations in general operating funds, which in turn stabilizes the budgets of our most dedicated and important non-profit organizations caring for the most vulnerable in our community," Berges wrote in his letter.
The tax mill levy for the city of Hays has remained at 25 mills for 12 consecutive years.
Commissioner Ron Mellick said this is the wrong time to increase the mill levy.
"We're trying to increase housing and people that buy that house are going to pay another 1.5 mills on that," Mellick said. "Landlords will pass their increases onto their renters.
The 2021 budget has $100,000 for Grow Hays, the economic development organization for Hays and Ellis County, and $168,000 for CARE Council which allots the funds to social services programs such as ACCESS van, CASA of the High Plains, and First Call For Help.
Williams said Grow Hays is requesting economic development funding in 2022 from all governing bodies in Ellis County.
“I think it sends a message to our community that the city is committed to economic development and hopefully doing something like this will make it a little bit easier to get the corporate world - the stake holders - involved," said Jacobs. "I think if they see that kind of a commitment from us, it may make a difference in your ability to fundraise outside of us."
City Manager Toby Dougherty estimated a total 1.5 mill levy increase would add $43 a year in Ellis County property taxes on a $250,000 house in Hays.
The proposed increases would be especially hard on low-income and fix-income residents, Mellick said.
Commissioners will further review the proposed 2022 budget at their July 1 work session.