Bill Wayne's Political Pages - The Gadfly
Gadfly 119
Submitted to the Warrensburg Gazette for December 27, 2001

The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.

There was a rather interesting juxtaposition of meetings in Warrensburg on Dec. 18. The City of Warrensburg finally adopted a budget for the fiscal year that started back in October, with the main cost-saving feature being a freeze on filling current vacancies. The County Commission had a public hearing on how the voting subdistricts would be set up should the Ambulance District be approved in April. The Warrensburg R-VI district, which is talking about putting a tax on the ballot in August, also met. Here’s how they all tie in:

Warrensburg has 3 vacancies in the fire department, 3 in police, and 1 each in streets and sewers. The freeze on filling these vacancies is essentially a temporary reduction in staffing authorizations. Now, the way I understand it, the police, streets and sewers have been operating short on personnel; the fire department has in essence filled its shifts by using part-time trained firefighters. With its budget cut by the equivalent of 3 positions, the fire department will have to reduce staffing of its shifts by not bringing in part-timers to cover the vacant positions. As the firefighters’ union members pointed out, this will mean the initial response to a fire at your house might be inadequate to knock down the fire quickly and to rescue you at the same time.

Now, how does this relate to the Ambulance District? I haven’t seen how Holden budgets its ambulance service, but am told it’s a separate entity. In Warrensburg, the ambulance function is performed by the fire department and labor costs are allocated between the functions. Holden says it lost $180,000 last year; Warrensburg’s budget calls for it to lose $330,000 over its revenues of $500,000 – Warrensburg has also budgeted a $100,000 decrease in fireman payroll and a $170,000 increase in ambulance service payroll (Hmmm – wonder why the allocation changes so significantly?). How the ambulance board subdistricts are set up will determine how much influence Warrensburg will have in deciding who gets the contracts for ambulance service. If Warrensburg can control the ambulance board, we can pretty well guess the result.

Now how does this relate to the School Board’s desire to raise taxes? Well, under state law if we approve the ambulance district in April, we’ll give the ambulance board the authority to set a levy as high as 30 cents per $100 assessed value without further votes. According to the figures I’ve seen, a full 30 cent levy would raise about $1 million, far more than the $400,000 reported actual losses by the two cities. The ambulance board doesn’t have to set the levy at the full rate, but once elected they have full authority. The school board, including a prospective Republican candidate for the legislature, wants a 50 cent increase. Taken together with the projected levy for the new Trails Library, the total tax increases requested for those living in the R-VI district would be close to 20% on real property plus personal property such as boats and cars. Should be some interesting campaigns.

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