As cities across the state struggle with budgets and layoffs, the organization that represents city governments at the Kansas Statehouse is planning to spend $240,000 to commemorate the group’s 100th anniversary.
On top of that, cities are being asked to donate anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 to sponsor a “gala celebration” as part of the anniversary.
The League of Kansas Municipalities last week sent a letter to nearly every city in the state asking for sponsorship money that would be used for a gala in conjunction with the league’s annual conference in October in Overland Park.
“We are celebrating essentially 100 years of good government in Kansas,” said Don Moler, the league’s executive director. “The suggestion was made, and we have asked members if they wish to donate some small amount of money towards helping us to provide extra training and highlight what the league does.”
The league provides a variety of services — including legal advice, training and legislative lobbying — to cities that pay dues to the nonprofit organization.
Thus far, no city has agreed to sign up as a sponsor, said Kimberly Winn, the league’s director of communications. But Winn said several cities had inquired about the sponsorships in the week since the letter had been sent and said they may do it depending on how their budgets work out.
“We really don’t know right now if anybody will be contributing to the 100th,” Winn said. “We’re not going to push anybody, given their situations.”
Regardless of the sponsorships, the league already has budgeted money from its reserve fund to spend on its 100th anniversary. In 2009, the league spent $66,000 on anniversary preparations, and in 2010 the organization is budgeted to spend $174,000 for anniversary-related events, Moler said.
The money will be used to beef up activities at the group’s annual conference, and to produce and air four television commercials highlighting the importance of cities in Kansas. One of the commercials also highlights the value of what traditionally has been the league’s top legislative priority — cities’ home rule authority, which allows cities to exempt themselves from a variety of state laws.
The $174,000 for anniversary expenses represents about 8 percent of the league’s entire $2.3 million operating budget for 2010. League officials, though, said the commemoration was worth the expense.
“I think this is a much bigger thing than just some sponsorships,” said Carl Gerlach, the mayor of Overland Park and the league’s president. “I think we’re communicating a message all across the state about what city government is providing citizens even during these tough economic times.”
“You can debate all day long whether things should be this way or that way, but the fact is, if you look around choices are being made all the time and the choice this organization made was that commemorating 100 years of excellence in local government was not an inappropriate thing to do,” Moler said.
Moler did say he wished the league’s anniversary would have come during more prosperous economic times. The league is dipping into its approximately $500,000 in reserve funds not only for its anniversary events, but also to partially fund general operations. In addition to the $174,000 for the anniversary, it plans to use another $60,000 from reserves to cover salaries and other expenses. The league receives about $800,000 in dues from cities, and has not raised dues in several years, Moler said.
Lawrence City Manager David Corliss said Lawrence likely would not participate in the league’s sponsorship program because of budget constraints.