Mayor Mike Amyx hasn't given up on the idea of a new 1-cent sales tax to pay for infrastructure and property tax relief.
Amyx was out Wednesday touting the plan to members of Downtown Lawrence Inc. And he said he planned to make many more presentations to the various civic organizations in hopes of bringing the issue back up at the City Commission in the next few months.
"I still think my plan is a great idea," Amyx said. "I still stand behind it."
Amyx last month proposed a new 1-cent, citywide sales tax that would automatically sunset after 10 years. He proposes using about half of the estimated $120 million the tax would generate to fund street maintenance, stormwater improvements and sidewalk work.
The remaining $60 million would be placed in a unique, interest-bearing endowment fund. The interest proceeds would be used to fund other infrastructure needs. With the new sales tax, Amyx also is proposing the city reduce its property tax rate by about 5 mills.
Amyx, though, was unable to convince a majority of city commissioners to move ahead on the plan before they approved the city's 2007 budget earlier this month. Any new sales tax ultimately would require a citywide election.
The plan drew disfavor from some downtown merchants, gathered for a quarterly meeting Wednesday.
"It just seems like the easiest answer for government always is to raise taxes," said Walt Houk, of the downtown travel agency Travellers Inc. "If you can't live within your means, lay someone off, reduce a health benefit, do the type of things that businesses have to do."
Other merchants said they were concerned that additional sales tax - which would bring Lawrence's rate to 8.3 percent - would slow sales, particularly as more shoppers are turning to the Internet for purchases.
"There are a lot of people in this room getting pressured by the Internet," said Pat Kehde, an owner of the Raven Bookstore. "I'm not sure it is accurate to assume that sales are always going to go up in Douglas County."
Amyx said he was open to other ideas. He said he was open to cutting city services in order to avoid an increase in tax rates, but he said he's not sure that is really what the public wants.
"Maybe we're at that point," Amyx said. "Maybe we have to go to our department heads and say we have to look at things in a different light. But we also have to ask ourselves what the service expectation levels are from our citizens. Are they too high? I don't know, but I do get a lot of calls asking for new services."
Amyx said an alternative to a new sales tax could be to examine the existing 1-cent citywide sales tax voters approved in 1994 - which has largely been used for park projects - to see if some of that funding could be redirected.
The idea of a new sales tax had some support among the merchants. Bob Schumm, an owner of Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse and Mass Street Deli, praised Amyx for making the proposal. He said a sales tax would allow the city to better capture revenues from university students who may not own property in the city and from out-of-town visitors.
"I think it really is about what tax do you like the best," Schumm told the group. "And I don't think it is very realistic to choose none of the above."