Archive for Monday, August 9, 2004

City set to raise fees for services

Typical single-family home will see $93 increase

August 9, 2004


Getting a speeding ticket is about to become more expensive in Lawrence.

So is taking a shower, throwing out the trash and taking children to the pool.

When the Lawrence City Commission meets Tuesday night, it is expected to approve a $122 million city budget for 2005 that reduces the property tax rate but raises fees for many city services. The result, the Journal-World has calculated, will be a $93 increase in city expenses for the owner of a typical single-family home.

"I don't like them much," Mayor Mike Rundle said Friday of fee increases. He said it was hard to discern the justification for the move.

"Once you pass the budget, you can lower things," he said. "We've got between now and the end of the year to do that."

City Manager Mike Wildgen said the fee increases were small, so as to reduce the pain to taxpayers. The increases, he said, would pay for higher salary, health insurance and equipment costs for city-run services.

"The traditional approach we've had is to look at the rates each year, not every five years," Wildgen said. "We think it's better to take the rate increases in smaller doses and not in larger doses."

The increases:

    The cost of city services for a typical single-family home in Lawrence will go up in 2005.*
    Annual cost 2003 2004
    Property tax $484 $513
    Trash $138 $141
    Water $200 $216
    Sewer $321 $366
    Total $1,143 $1,236
    * Based on increase valuation of single-family home from $150,000 to $159,000, plus a 6,000-gallon-a-month average use for water and sewer.
  • The city's tax rate will drop from 28.065 to 27.882 mills -- a mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed valuation -- a 0.183-mill decrease. But valuation is rising by 6.4 percent, officials say. That means a $150,000 home now will be valued at nearly $160,000 for tax purposes. Factoring in the rate decrease and valuation increase, that homeowner would see the tax bill increase to $513 from $484.
  • 2005 will mark the first year of a revamping of the rate system for water and sewer.

Under current water rates, the city charges residential customers $6.55 for the first 2,000 gallons of water used during a month. After that, the charge is $2.52 per 1,000 gallons up to 20,000 gallons. The new system will charge a $1.95 minimum fee to most residential customers, then $2.67 per 1,000 gallons.

If, as officials have estimated, the average residential water use is 6,000 gallons per month, the average residential water bill would increase to $17.97 from $16.63 per month.

  • The old sewer rates charged residential customers $14.60 for the first 2,000 gallons, then $3.03 per 1,000 gallons after; the new rate system charges a $7.30 minimum fee, plus $3.87 per 1,000 gallons -- meaning the typical residential customer who sends 6,000 gallons a month into the sewer system would see their average bill rise $30.52 from $26.72 per month.
  • The residential rate for trash service will rise to $11.71 from $11.48 per month.

Drive slowly

The fee increases reach outside the household:

  • Pool fees for children ages 5 to 12 would increase by 50 cents, to $1.75 from $1.25.

The increase displeased Carol Woods, who brought four youngsters to Lawrence Aquatic Center Friday.

"That's too expensive," she said. Swimming is "one of the affordable things for the summer. If you raise prices, it'll make it so people who don't make a decent income can't afford it all."

Jimmy Gibbs, the city's aquatics supervisor, said the increase would generate $25,000 in new income for city pools. He said the city offset such increases by donating $15,000 worth of pool passes and swimming lessons to nonprofit organizations that help low-income children.

"They're making sure the passes go to kids who really need them," Gibbs said.

  • And "court costs" -- the fee for processing a traffic ticket through Lawrence Municipal Court -- will increase to $32.50 from $22.50.

Unlike the other fee increases, which go into effect Jan. 1, the court costs will go up Sept. 1, so the city can begin paying for a new computerized court record system. Wildgen said such midyear fee increases were rare.

"In this case, it's associated with a particular need, and that's updating that software," he said. "We felt it was important we try to do that."

The commission meets at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

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