Lawrence city commissioners Monday moved closer to raising local property taxes a maximum of $270,000 a year to finance a public taxi-coupon system.
"If we really want to give this system a chance we ought to put money into it," Commissioner John Nalbandian said.
At a study session in city hall, commissioners indicated they would vote on a charter ordinance before the April election that would increase the property tax by 1 mill to support the transportation program.
A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed property valuation. A 1-mill increase would raise $270,000 annually, using current valuation figures.
Commissioners agreed not to spend the full amount on the taxi-voucher system. The 1993 budget would be $110,000 to $120,000 and the 1994 budget $164,000.
"Let's get the 1 mill but keep the rest available," Mayor Bob Schulte said.
THE PROPOSED tax hike wouldn't require a public vote, City Manager Mike Wildgen said.
The charter ordinance needs the support of four of five city commissioners to pass. No commissioners expressed opposition Monday to the project.
If approved by the commission, the charter ordinance would be published twice and followed by a 60-day period in which residents could force a public vote.
The issue would be placed on a ballot if 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last city election signed a petition calling for a referendum. Only the signatures of registered voters would be valid.
The result of a referendum would be binding on the commission.
Wildgen said the ordinance would allow the city to get around a state property tax lid law. The city's lid this year is $6.4 million, with the amount actually levied at $4.2 million.
Although there is $2.2 million available, the 1993 Legislature might lower the tax lid. If that occurred, funding for the project could be jeopardized.
"IT IS VERY likely there will be a change downward," Nalbandian said.
Commissioners agreed in September to subsidize taxi rides for elderly, disabled or low-income residents and, to a lesser extent, the general public.
At that time, the commission asked city staff to develop a timetable for implementing the program and identify potential sources of funding.
The goal is to implement the taxi system by January 1994. The city intends to apply in July 1993 to the Federal Transit Administration for additional funding for the project.
In determining how to finance the system, commissioners rejected increases in the city's sales tax, gas tax and special fees.
Nalbandian initially wanted to spend the entire $270,000 in new tax revenue on the taxi system. However, he wasn't certain where that money should go.
"I CERTAINLY don't want to waste money, but I want to give it every chance to succeed," Nalbandian said.
Other commissioners didn't support Nalbandian. It would be better to maintain a budget reserve, they said.
Commissioner Bob Schumm insisted the city require taxis used by voucher holders to conform to safety as well as aesthetic standards.
"There ought to be a standard in there that they are clean and odor free," Schumm said.
The voucher system resulted from a study of public transit needs by a Dallas transportation consulting firm. Under the proposal, the general public could buy $1 vouchers for 25 cents from the city to help pay for cab rides. Elderly, disabled or low-income residents could buy $3 coupons for 25 cents.
AFTER discussion of the voucher system, Nalbandian asked Chris Ogle, owner of Lawrence Bus Co., to draft a $270,000 alternative to the proposed coupon system.
"If it's more attractive to us than the taxi-voucher system, we ought to look at it," Nalbandian said.