After months of negotiations, Lawrence City Commissioners Tuesday approved the city's 2004 budget.
None of them, though, like it.
"We did a serious job of cutting," Commissioner Boog Highberger said. "I think we did the best we could."
"The best" in-cludes a tax levy of $28.065 per $1,000 in assessed property values, significant cuts to public works and other city departments, and dozens of one-time fixes, such as spending down rainy day funds for equipment. The levy is up $2.49 per $1,000 of assessed valuation from last year.
The city is still budgeted to spend more than $3 million more than it will bring in next year. The city plans to spend about $110 million in 2004.
"This is not a commission that has signed on to spend money with reckless abandon," Commissioner Sue Hack said.
Hack and her fellow commissioners blamed the loss of state revenue transfers and the increasing costs of health insurance for the city's employees for the tax increase.
Those factors "equal way more than 2.49" mills, Highberger said.
Those reasons are no comfort to Jim Stokes, a Lawrence retiree on a fixed income.
"I used to say I was on a fixed income ... now I say I'm on a diminishing income," Stokes said.
Stokes asked commissioners to keep the mill levy the same as last year, saying cuts in public transportation and other city services could keep the tax rate level.
Commissioner David Schauner said he felt the commission had no other choice.
"I think (the 2004) budget is probably the best budget that under the circumstances we can produce," Schauner said.
In adopting the budget, commissioners also approved a host of ordinances to raise city fees but deferred a vote on doubling parking-meter rates after several downtown merchants asked for more time to consider the proposal.
The budget will be presented to the Douglas County clerk no later than Aug. 25. Several commissioners cited a desire to continue looking for cost-cutting measures in the coming months to further reduce the property tax increase.