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2020 budget process hits busy period

It’s summer and that means the heat is turning up both outside and on the city’s budget 2020 timeline, which has a Aug. 25 deadline. While the process had its start back in mid-January with a review of the upcoming year’s budget priorities and goals, it really gets going during the next several months.

In that regard, a three-hour budget workshop was held June 4 at the City Council chambers with the city’s department heads presenting their recommendations to the council.

Most of the items were small in comparison to the city’s overall budget but they did provide members an insight into what is happening in the departments and what their managers believe to be their priorities.

The next major step will be on June 15 when the city receives its estimate from the Sedgwick County Clerk of the 2019 assessed valuation, which will be incorporated into the budget. There also will be estimates from the county treasurer of a variety of miscellaneous taxes.

At the June 25 council meeting, members will receive citizen comments, if any, on the budget. Generally, there are few comments unless there is something controversial proposed. City Manager Kathy Sexton’s recommended budget – with exact numbers – will be delivered on July 3 and presented at the July 9 council meeting.

Of course, the big question is whether taxes will be increasing in Derby.

The short answer is no.

“At this point we see no tax increase in our staff recommendation,” Sexton said.

A one mill levy increase was put into effect in 2018, but Sexton said “we’re sitting in good shape” now.

That’s mostly due to a projection of a 5 percent assessed valuation growth this year that is being credited to a robust real estate market and new construction activity.

However, if there are a lot of successful appeals by major property owners, that 5 percent could drop, Sexton said.

If that happens, the city managers may juggle some things around, but Sexton just doesn’t see a need to increase the mill levy.

Overall, there are no big-ticket items in this budget, such as a $1 million fire truck.

“It’s pretty conservative and we’re in good shape,” said Sexton, now in her 13th year as manager.

Variety of HR requests

There are cost challenges, however, especially with health care expenses and if inflation ramps up, that could affect the outlook, too.

Several of the proposals discussed at the meeting concerned adding to the city staff.

Managers say the workload is increasing as the city grows.

Derby is now closing in on a population of 25,000, which means it has to change its status from a city of the second class to one of the first class, which, according to observers, is the first time that is happening in Kansas in many years.

Among the human resources requests are:

• Convert the current contract prosecutor to a part-time employee.

• Hire a part-time liaison to interact with Derby’s homeowners associations.

• Put an administrative assistant in place in the operations area.

• Add one part-time firefighter.

• Increase the police force by another officer.

• Hire two groundskeepers for the new Decarsky Park.

• Add a groundskeeper and horticulturist for the parks along with using seasonal contract labor.

• Also, with public works and in the water and wastewater operations area, add an assistant lab technician and a utilities operator.

Most of the new employee requests didn’t merit much discussion, but member Cheryl Bannon did question whether it was worth hiring full-time employees with benefits for Decarsky Park.

Public works officials said it would be, as they would be kept busy year-round providing maintenance for the 63-acre site.

Also, by adding benefits to the package, they would be able to attract higher-caliber, more qualified candidates with better, cleaner backgrounds who would be able to pass qualifying tests, including drug screening.

A variety of department heads, including Police Chief Robert Lee, commented on the difficulty in the current labor market of finding the quality employees they want.

Local optometrist brings better vision to impoverished

Your old unused pair of glasses sitting in a desk drawer at your house could bring joy and happiness to someone who hasn’t been able to see well for a lifetime. Derby optometrist Dr. Laura Branstetter knows what that means to someone in poverty, from a recent firsthand experience.

Branstetter and three other Kansas optometrists headed to Central America in late February of this year and spent a week in Guatemala. They examined the eyes of men, women and children who have never had the opportunity to have better vision.

The trip was through a Kansas organization called Volunteer Optometric Services for Humanity, or VOSH. Their purpose is to help improve the lives of people in Central America by offering vision services in impoverished areas of the country.

The work is hard and demanding and a single VOSH optometrist may examine up to 100 people a day, averaging a patient every 10 minutes. The doctors are all volunteers and pay the majority of their own expenses.

“The people in that area are so used to not having any glasses and are forced to just get by. Even getting something that improves their vision in some way, can be life-changing,” Branstetter said.

The community of Derby stepped up months prior to the trip in a “we need your old glasses” campaign. Branstetter’s optometric office, Eye to Eye Vision Care, solicited the community for old glasses that were tested for strength, sorted and bagged. The glasses would then be matched up with a VOSH patient who needed that strength.

“The response we got for people to donate their old glasses was wonderful. If there is something that needs to happen, Derby people are on it,” Branstetter said.

She says the doctors did a general eye health check looking for everything from cataracts, lid droop and other possible eye diseases. She said sometimes it was very hard. For example, she might see a child that has a parasite in the eye and the damage is already done where nothing can be done about it.

Branstetter has made other VOSH trips in the past and she says that every time she goes it is a reality check. “It makes me so thankful for what we have here,” she said.

She says that some of the conditions the people live in can impact their eye health. People may do their cooking outside. There is a lot of pollution from burning trash. Branstetter says they see a lot of dry eye in their patients.

Branstetter got to connect with her son Chase while in Guatemala. Chase, who is in a gap year waiting to attend medical school, actually spent time in the clinic while his mother was there. Chase knows Spanish and was in a Spanish immersion program designed for gap year students. The program teaches them to learn accents and how to work with people when communicating with them.

Branstetter says there isn’t a lot of time to go sightseeing or anything while on a VOSH trip. The goal is to help as many people as they can with their vision in the short time they are there. She says that is just fine with her.