City commission approves LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance, mulls over tax increase

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Members of the LGBT community and supporters filled city hall Tuesday night as the city commission voted on an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance.

After months of deliberation and input from the community, the city commission voted 5-0 to pass it. The ordinance makes it unlawful for the city, landlords and others to discriminate against LGBT individuals. Violations can incur a fine of up to $500.

The ordinance, set to take effect in November, will not apply to the Riley County Police Department. In a 3-2 vote, the commission approved an amendment that would exempt RCPD from the ordinance. RCPD Director Brad Schoen requested the exemption. Schoen was not present at the meeting.

Commissioner Linda Morse voted against the amendment, stating that she believed exemption from the ordinance should only apply to organizations that already have similar policies.

“The reason why we’re exempting other government entities, K-State, USD 383, the federal government, eventually NBAF, is because they already have policies in place…” Morse said. “But it’s my understanding that the Riley County Police Department does not have a policy in place and so, therefore, I will not support exempting them.”

Commissioners Morse and Mike Dodson voted against the amendment, while Commissioners Karen McCulloh, Wynn Butler and Mayor Usha Reddi voted in favor.

Commissioners also looked at the first reading of the proposed 2017 city budget. Bernie Hayen, city director of finance, offered the commissioners a look at three options: keeping the mill levy rate the same, an increase of 1.0 mills and an increase of 1.5 mills. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value.

Hayen said an increase of some measure would be necessary if the commission wanted to avoid more budget cuts. He said part of the city’s funding has been negatively affected by the state’s refusal to continue sharing revenue from the state sales tax.

“That loss cost us about a million dollars in 2003,” Hayen said. “It was huge. Again, it’s still on the statute books that the state of Kansas has to share in their state sales tax revenues with municipalities across the state. They haven’t done so since 2003.”

Commissioner McCulloh said that she supported the idea of moving forward with some type of increase to the mill levy.

“I would only say I think too often we equate growth with tax levies going down and everybody not paying so many property taxes,” McCulloh said. “And quite frankly, the bigger you get, the more problems you have and the more needs you have.”

McCulloh said she did not want the commission to get caught up in what the mill rate was and rather focus on how to grow the city.

“I don’t like paying taxes more than anybody else, but I think we need to figure out exactly what level we think we should support the city and the city expenses,” McCulloh said. “And kind of back off from where the mill is.”

Commissioner Butler said he disagreed with some of what McCulloh stated, saying that he preferred budgeting with the money the city had rather than increase property taxes.

“My philosophy has always been that what you’ve got to do is budget your spending based on your income, just like a normal household,” Butler said. “And what government has the advantage of doing, which a household doesn’t, is just overcharging the credit card. If they want to spend more money, they just tax you more.”

Mayor Reddi said she wanted the commissioners to examine the budget as a whole rather than get lost in the weeds, a comment that Dodson said he was bothered by.

“Getting into the weeds or being on a high horse (in reference to an earlier statement by McCulloh) is not what I want to hear and I’m not going to tolerate it anymore,” Dodson said. “I’m trying to be as polite as I can. I’ve been a gentleman my entire life. So if everybody can, let’s be as polite as we’re supposed to be.”

Dodson went on to say that he believed it is the commissioners’ job to view the details of the budget.

“The public demands that we do a thorough examination of this budget,” Dodson said. “We can’t just wave our arms and say we want 1.5.”

The commission voted in favor 4-1 of the first reading of the 2017 budget with support for a 1 mill increase. Butler voted against the reading, stating his support for either a lower or zero mill increase.

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