Aug 09, 2022

🎥 Hays commission undecided on '23 agency funding requests

Posted Aug 09, 2022 11:01 AM
The public hearing for the Hays 2023 budget will be held Sept. 8. (Photo by Becky Kiser/Hays Post)
The public hearing for the Hays 2023 budget will be held Sept. 8. (Photo by Becky Kiser/Hays Post)

Hays Post

After more than an hour-long discussion Thursday, Hays city commissioners are still debating some of the 2023 funding requests from outside agencies.

Mayor Mason Ruder, who was in Colorado, joined the meeting via Zoom. The work session was conducted by Vice-Mayor Michael Berges.

Mayor Mason Ruder participates via Zoom in the Aug. 4 Hays city commission work session which was conducted by Vice-mayor Michael Berges (right). (Photo by Becky Kiser/Hays Post)
Mayor Mason Ruder participates via Zoom in the Aug. 4 Hays city commission work session which was conducted by Vice-mayor Michael Berges (right). (Photo by Becky Kiser/Hays Post)

The draft 2023 budget leaves the outside agency requests at the 2022 levels.

Asking for more money next year are the Ellis County Historical Society, Downtown Hays Development Corporation, Wild West Festival and CARE Council.

The Hays Chamber is making a first-time request of $45,000.

"We expect it to be a one-time request," Hays Chamber President/CEO Sarah Wasinger told the commission last week, "to help pay our staff a more equitable pay to be able to retain them. With four full-time staff on hand, it does give me the ability to spend more time off-campus to be able to work on issues such as child care and things of that nature."

The chamber is leading a community-wide taskforce to study the needs and solutions for more child care in Ellis County.

Wasinger noted several of the chamber's regular fundraisers had to be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and other events have had lower attendance.

"We've not been able to earn as much income from those events as we have in the past," she said.

"This request is to give us a year to re-tweak what we're doing event-wise to try to come up with the different fundraisers. We've already done some exploration on what other chambers are doing and will continue to do so in order to earn this income for ourselves versus coming to the city year after year."

Wasinger said the chamber is instituting a 10 percent increase in membership costs for 2023, and she anticipates about 25 members will drop out as a result.

"We had a dues increase also this year and that's about what we saw with that drop increase," she said.

In answer to a question from Commissioner Sandy Jacobs, Wasinger said the chamber has not considered an additional assessment for members.

"We know there is a fine line for affordability for membership for smaller businesses in making the investment for the benefits that they get, and they still have to finance other marketing efforts."

Expenses for the chamber's 2022 budget have been scaled back to what they were in 2006, Wasinger said. "We've trimmed quite a bit as an organization on what we're spending."

This spring the Hays Chamber joined nearly 40 other chambers of commerce across Kansas in the Chamber Blue of Kansas Association Health Care Plan.

The employee health insurance plan will be available for Hays Chamber members Jan. 1.

"We've already had some new members join this year based on the health insurance offering," Wasinger reported. "If we can get this off the ground, we believe that would be a huge win for us in our business community."

The commission praised Wasinger's leadership and the many community issues and projects the chamber has taken on during her tenure. But they were reluctant to fund the request as presented, pointing out that many other nonprofit groups and businesses have suffered a financial downturn because of COVID and the current inflationary economy.

"This is a tough one. It's definitely the toughest one I'm having difficulty with," said Mason. "It's not that they don't deserve it. It's just that I want to make sure that we are continuing to operate our finances as we should for the rest of the taxpayer base."

Jacobs favors any city potential funding going to a specific project. "Operations (funding) is a difficult thing for me," Jacobs said.

Commissioners also could not make a decision on the DHDC request of $60,000, up from $54,000 in 2022. Sara Bloom resigned at the end of May after serving seven years as DHDC executive director to join the Kansas Department of Commerce. The commission wondered what the new direction is for DHDC.

A large $8,000 funding increase request came from the historical society, which recently hired a new permanent director

Jacobs favored approval of the $21,116 funding ask. "They're reaching stability. I'm not sure about sustainability."

However, Commissioner Reese Barrick, executive director of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, feels the Ellis County Historical Society and its museum need to change more dramatically.  He described the role of the city-owned Smoky Hill Museum in Salina.

"[ECHS] needs a new mission and a new name. It needs an aspirational plan or there's no point to it.

"We should make the choice to see it as an investment, to be impactful with intention, " Barrick said. "It should be another draw to downtown." 

Barrick said he would be "OK with $40,000 in city funding and intentional conversations with Ellis County and Fort Hays State University" about potential partnerships. "It has huge potential to have a bigger economic impact on our economy."

In all, the total request in 2023 city funding from outside agencies is about $72,000 more than what was provided in 2022.

The Aug. 18 work session will include discussion of the budget draft one final time.

The commission also heard from Jesse Rohr, public works director, about a request to annex city-owned property at 1732 W. 41st where a planned third fire station would be built. The land, which is the site of a city water well, would have to be rezoned from agriculture to public and institutional district.