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Archive for Wednesday, June 6, 1990

TAX INCREASE NOW RESTING WITH VOTERS

June 6, 1990

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The issue of increased staffing in the Lawrence police and fire departments now rests in the pocketbooks of the city's voters.

The Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday unanimously set Aug. 7 as the date to ask voters to approve an increase in the local sales tax. Proceeds from the half-cent increase would be used to beef up police and fire department staffing and give a small measure of relief to the city's property taxpayers.

"I really feel, as I think all the commissioners do, there is a great deal of support for taking this step," Mayor Shirley Martin-Smith said. "It's a big step."

For several years, city commissioners have been asked to increase staffing in the city's public service agencies especially the police department. A year ago, the calls reached a peak just as commissioners were preparing the city's 1990 budget.

PROMPTED by the public call for increased staffing, the commission authorized a study of the issue, which was released by city officials in January. The report called for the addition of 27 police officers and nine firefighters over a five-year period.

City Manager Mike Wildgen estimated the first-year cost of adding the police, firefighters and necessary incidental purchases at $1.465 million. The only sources for raising that kind of revenue, Wildgen said, would be a higher sales tax or a higher local property tax. Commissioners squelched the property tax idea in mid-May.

Commissioner Bob Schumm said that an incentive for voters to approve the sales tax increase would be that it will allow the city to offer a slight decrease in property taxes.

HERE'S HOW the city's property taxes would decrease: An increase to 1 percent in the city's sales tax would raise an estimated additional $2.7 million annually more than enough needed to increase staffing. The excess revenue, the commission said, will go directly into the general fund and be earmarked for property tax relief.

Wildgen estimated a first-year decrease of 3.66 mills if the sales tax is approved. A mill is equal to $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Schumm was most adamant in pressing for the higher sales tax instead of a property tax increase.

"I'm generally against sales tax increases because they are regressive," he said. "In this case, however, we've heard the greatest number of requests for public safety personnel I've heard anyway more so from the middle- and lower-income neighborhoods than the affluent neighborhoods."

HE ALSO said that Lawrence will benefit with an increased sales tax by drawing on income from people who live outside of the community especially those who shop at the new Lawrence Riverfront Plaza.

"We have an opportunity to tax a good number of people coming into the city now, who are here on a shopping adventure, who are using our services," he said.

The referendum will be scheduled in conjunction with the Aug. 7 primary election. If approved, the sales tax increase would go into effect Jan. 1, 1991. The first group of additional police officers would hit the streets in December 1991 and the first group of new firefighters would be assigned to full duty in March 1991.

xxxxx page 1A/9A -- SUB FOR LAST GRAPH Tax increase now resting with voters Tax increase now up to voters

The referendum will be scheduled in conjunction with the Aug. 7 primary election. If approved, the sales tax increase would go into effect Jan. 1, 1991. The first group of additional police officers would hit the streets in December 1991 and the first group of new firefighters would be assigned to full duty in March 1991.

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