Chat about the 2008 city budget with City Manager Dave Corliss
July 9, 2007
This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.
City Manager Dave Corliss proposed his 2008 budget for City Hall on Friday. It includes a 1-mill property tax increase, and a hike in pool fees to $4 a visit, while preserving the T from any budget cuts. He'll take your questions.
Hi. I'm Journal-World reporter Chad Lawhorn. I'll be the moderator for the chat. We have City Manager David Corliss with us to talk about his 2008 recommended city budget. Thanks for being here, David. We have several questions. We'll try to get through as many as possible.
Thanks for the invitation; let's go. Dave
With your proposed rate increase at the pool, how do you expect people living below the poverty line to let their kids go swimming?
The recommended budget does include a proposal to increase pool fees. We will either need to increase fees, reduce hours, or increase property tax support for our recreation fund. The City currently provides several thousand dollar annual support for free pool passes which are used by a number of individuals in our community. We also will continue to sell monthly pool passes which will be at a discounted rate.
Why is the city competing with private bidders to buy the polluted Farmland Ind. site, and what will be the process for choosing a firm to clean it up once the city owns it?
The City believes that it can acquire the former Farmland site and access the trust funds that have been set aside for environmental clean-up and administrative duties for the property. We believe that we will greater control over the property with ownership versus if a private environemental company acquires the property and then seeks to re-sell the property. We continue to believe that we need to expand our industrial sites, and the former Farmland site is a logical extension of the East Hills business park. The East Hills business park was originally purchased by a government entity (Douglas County) and was developed with City special assessment financial assistance. We think this is a successful model to follow for the Farmland property, with the additional element that we can acquire the property and use the trust funds to clean-up and administer the property.
You publicly stated that the budgets needed to be cut , how can you now suggest tax hikes after the city staff failed to produce the required cuts ?
Mr. Corliss, why does the City rent art to display, pay to insure this art when we have so many talented local artists that would probably display throughout the City for free? This seems like a huge waste of tax payers money and not a very good use of our own very talented artists here within the City.
Cowboy, thanks for the quesiton. We have made substantial cuts - if you read the recommended budget (go to www.lawrenceks.org) you will note that we have cut approximately $3 million from the 2007 budget, completely removed 3 full time positions, and we have reduced by $2 million what the department directors requested for 2008. We will have fewer general fund positions in 2008 than we did in 2007. The recommended budget provides options for the City Commission to consider: including options which do not increase the mill levy. I'm recommending that we increase the mill levy to provide City employees with a 2% wage adjustment and that we increase the mill levy to keep the transit system at current service levels (this is required because we cut the transit mill levy before the 2007 budget). The total mill levy increase is at about 1.0 mill. Our mill levy will still be less than the school district and Douglas County. We are still looking for ways to reduce budgets and expenditures. However, our costs are increasing and there is not a strong consensus on what City services must be cut. I specifically ask the Commission in my transmittal letter which service or City function we should say "no" to.
Sorry about that folks. We got out of order there. The question that David will be responding to next is from samsnewplace.
Thank for the question. I disagree that spending public tax dollars on public art is a waste of money. The Lawrence Arts Commission receives City tax dollars to sponsor the downtown sculpture exhibition and a number of other worthy programs. They receive approximately $23,000 per year from the City. We constantly receive compliments about the value of public art, including our downtown sculpure exhibition. I agree that we have a number of talented artists in our community - and talented artists should be compensated for their work. The City's budget has a focus on essential, City services: police, fire, street maintenance. That is where the vast bulk of tax dollars should go and do go. But we also want to live and work in a remarkable community, so the City has supported limited expenditures on public art that enhances our community and provides some support for Lawrence as a community which supports the arts.
Since the city is in a budget crisis, how can you justify having two assistant city managers? Seems to me, this is a position you can do without and cut some fat out of the budget without hurting anyone, since you have already laid off two other city employees. And when is the review of dept heads "from top to bottom" going to be done, as you stated when you took over the job as city manager?
Thanks for the question. The City has had two assistant city manager positions since 2000, so that is not a new position. The review of the City organization is never completed, it is constantly occurring. I'll give examples: We have merged the Neighborhood Resources Department with the Planning Department to help with the coordination on our development process. We are budgeting the Human Relations Department function (enforcing the City's civil rights laws) under our legal department for the 2008 budget and still conducting a review about how best to align that function with our organizational chart. We have moved all the responsibilities for sanitary sewer design and construction inspection from the Public Works department to the Utilities department. We have also made a number of changes in the Utilities Department, specifically focusing on maintenance and engineering services. There are a number of initiatives to improve the City organization which are underway - there will always be change. Judge us by our results and read the recent survey of City residents. We have a number of areas to improve, but we also receive high marks on our level of service. These are comments which reflect a scientific sampling of Lawrence citizens versus following the "wisdom comes from the lungs" approach of anonymous bloggers.
I was wondering what type of accountability will be placed on the Chamber of Commerce with all the handouts they have been given. Maybe you could give some insight as to what they are doing with the money we have given them and some hard facts as to what kinds of businesses and the number of jobs they have actually brought to the community.
Thanks for the question. The Chamber of Commerce provides periodic reports to the City Commission on their activities - we conducted a study session with Douglas County officials and Chamber representativies a couple of weeks back on their recruitement and retention activities. Those reports provide data on the number of inquiries from businesses, job growth, etc. which are used to evaluate their activities.
The Leo Center, which serves Lawrence needy with emergency rent and utilities, a food pantry and Heartland Medical Clinic, received no recommendation for assistance at all in 2008.
While I understand (somewhat) not raising the assistance of other agencies, isn't it true that they serve the needy in Lawrence, and that being said, why shouldn't the city support this social agency with funds the way it's supporting others? Couldn't *some* support have been allotted to this agency serving town since 1999, versus an all out zero?
Thanks, David. That's all the time we have. Thank you all for your questions.
Thanks for your question. I agree that the Leo Center provides a valuable service to the community. The recommended budget does not include any support for new non-City agencies. The recommended budget does provide support for a number of agencies that have received support in the past, a partial list includes: Warm Hearts ($6,000); Salvation Army ($30,000); the total for homeless services in the general fund amounts to $187,000; Health Care Access ($28,000); Ballard Center ($7,500). These amounts either reflect their requests for 2008 or their actual budgeted amounts (prior to the 4% reduction) for 2007. Budgets involve choices, and giving our resource limitations the recommended budget does not include new social service initiatives.
Chad, thanks for the invitation. I'd be glad to respond to anyone - even if they want to be anonymous - who didn't get their questions/comments responded to today. Just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, Dave